The request was simple enough—submit a few hundred-word article on writing tips. But being the Queen of the Complicated, I approached it as though I were a nervous contestant rehearing for a début on Writing with the Stars. I knew many of the recipients were already accomplished writers, published even. What pithy snippets of information did I have that they might benefit from? (Besides ignoring that preposition at the end of the sentence.)
Thinking everyone was familiar with Strunk’s advice about clear and concise writing, and no one wanted to read about basic grammar rules, I set off to mine the wisdom from the shelves at Barnes and Noble.
The best advice I gleaned from Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing was “Try to leave out the part that readers skip.”
Noah Lukeman begins his book The First Five Pages with the importance of presentation. You know, don’t send in the copy with the coffee rings framing the page numbers.
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, covers a range of topics from composting (your thoughts for a few days—not the garbage) to doing something you don’t usually do, like wearing different clothes or dangling an unlit cigarette from your lips.
Feeling my time in B&N was bordering on loitering, I went home and searched Google quotations for that perfect nugget of wisdom. The following offered their contributions:
Sholem Asch sums up writer’s block with the observation, “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.” Mark Twain suggests that if you “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.”
And perhaps most sage of all, Van Wyck Brooks recommends “No man should ever publish a book until he has first read it to a woman.”
All good advice but I still felt unsatisfied. I berated myself for not just getting on with it. How much advice does any writer need for crying out loud? And then it came. A gift from a writer friend: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. A book for people “who torture themselves over their writing, who imagine themselves imposters, poseurs, dilettantes, and manqués.”
That did it. I was stirred to motion, reminded of the truths that I so easily sacrificed to fear. And so dear fellow writers, I confidently put fingers to keys and offer my own tips:
Don’t let fear, frustration, or perfection paralyze you from embracing that which pulses in your blood. Believe that regardless of what kind of writing you do, there is urgency in these darkening days for the story that only you can tell. And be assured that He who calls you equips you.
I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord God; I will make mention of Thy righteousness, Thine alone. O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth; And I still declare Thy wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation.—Psalm 71: 16
My article for our writers' group newsletter Penstrokes