The other day, at the library, without even fulling intending to…
I read a whole book in one sitting.
Not to worry – I didn’t shirk all my school responsibilities and spend hours of my day reading for pleasure. In fact, it was only about 60 pages long; a short little swim in a pool of fresh new ideas.
You see, I’m rounding the bend on NaNoWriMo: I’m at that part in the cross-country race where you can actually see the finish line after so many miles of just keeping your head down and working hard. I have 3 days and 4,083 words to go. Unbelievable. I’m also turning the corner at school too – I have only a few days left of classes, and the papers and finals are piling up. My teeth are still hurting (I think I may be suffering from the awful dry socket), I’m spending much too much of my life at the library, and (of course) I need to do laundry.
The point is, I am (like we all are) busy. Stressed. With all the things we need to fit into the day, there isn’t usually much time left over for what we want to do. And if you’re me, what you want to do is have more time to read.
Enter Byliner Originals! This is such an awesome idea: short, concise little digital books, about 60 pages and $1-3 dollars each. Inside is a new perspective, an idea, an opinion or a story. Many outlets for eReaders are selling them for devices, but they’re also equally able to be read online in web format. The first I read was a great memoir on writing by Ann Patchett…
The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett
I’ve never actually read any of Ann Patchett’s novels, but this book really made me want to. In it, she writes about her life and journey as a writer, mixing in personal anecdotes with advice in equal parts. It really helps you get a feel for what it would be like to devote yourself to writing.
She talks about the lessons she learned from each of her eccentric college professors, her MFA workshop, her time spent waitressing at a TGIFriday’s while writing her first novel in her head, getting her first book contract. You learn more about her process: how she writes, who she shows it to, what she hates about writing, how she motivates herself. She doesn’t try to romanticize the life of a writer, but somehow I felt myself getting swept up by all her stories, maybe because that kind of life appeals to me.
One of my favourite insights (and one I’ve been getting in large doses from this book) is to practice.
If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish but because you long to know how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say.
As writers, sometimes we think we have to be struck by inspiration, that we have to be automatically good. But I like the idea that we have to practice our craft, just as much as a talented flute player has to practice hers. Musicians don’t expect to be great without putting in the hours, and neither should we. It’s far too much pressure!
I think something that I struggle with in writing is letting myself be bad. I get so hung up on wanting it to be great, and so frustrated when its not, that I think for years I was held back because my “ideas weren’t good enough” and I “wasn’t a very good writer anyways”. Maybe not – but why does it matter? That’s how people get “writer’s block”: through fear that everything they write will suck, and suck hard. What I’ve learned is that I have to just go with the ideas that seem stupid, write them anyways, practice, get better. That’s the only way.
In other words:
“Calm down, stick it out.”
…advice that Patchett herself had to hear while writing her first book. Don’t throw things out! Just go with it.
She also talks a lot about not worrying if your process is wildly different from other writers’. Everyone has their own method, and none of them is the “right” way.
The book is packed with insights, including:
- Write it in the order it will be read
- Writer’s block is a myth
- Ideas are everywhere, just open your eyes
- If it’s important to you, put writing first
- The importance of reading your writing out loud
If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt or buy it here. There’s a great article listing more insights here.
Have you read any great memoirs lately? Would you be interested in reading one on the life of a writer? What stands out among her insights as a mini-epiphany to you?