The Writing Bug—
Perhaps many writers have this awkward experience—when someone is touched by something they’ve written, quotes it, and looks expectantly for a response. The moment stretches on a bit longer than it should, though, as they’ve no memory of writing it.
Well, that has happened to me. Twice in the last month, in fact, I’ve had to navigate that long moment. The comments referenced passages in Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk—my book from 2008—and both times I stupidly waited with a half-open mouth, in a kind of mute truce with the questioner, neither of us clear any longer what was going on. I really need to read that book again if I want to be out socially. Max Ehrmann’s lovely poem The Desiderata says ‘Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans’, yet I’m clearly not doing much about the first part.
This week I dipped into Post-Dated for the Desiderata-approved trip down memory lane. In addition to hopefully getting more familiar with my own work, I was curious to see how my writing has changed. And some of the old style is hard to swallow. I wince at every semicolon; there are galloping herds of them; they are such awkward things; why oh why didn’t I use more periods?
Concurrent with writing Bonsai Heresy (a book about the myths of common bonsai practice) is another book I’m exploring, which is musings on living in a tiny home. But I’ll share more about that scribbly, fountain-penned adventure in a future post.
Aside from a pleasant escape, away from the buzz of the bonsai studio and all, I’m finding that a tiny home is an especially serene and suitable place to write. Distractions minimal, focus optimal. It’s not surprising that small structures are often built just for writing. Michael Pollan erected a studio in view of his house, a plan that was, according to him, urgently timed with his wife becoming pregnant. Some writing escapes are quite clever, if not idiosyncratic. George Bernard Shaw’s writing shack was so tiny it could be pushed with his shoulder to turn a lazy susan underneath, so that no matter what time of day it was he could always sit in the sun.
George Bernard Shaw turning his writing shed to track the sun, like a heliotropic plant
Here’s a baker’s dozen of my favorite quotes from writers about writing (though they seem applicable to many disciplines):
1. The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway
2. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman
3. There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham
4. Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright
5. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain
6. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde
7. Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever. —Will Self
8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. — Jonathan Franzen
9. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet. — Zadie Smith
10. Every day I get up and look out the window, and something occurs to me. Something always occurs to me. And if it doesn’t, I just lower my standards. — William Stafford
11. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. — Kurt Vonnegut
12. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. — Kurt Vonnegut
13. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman