10 Things I know about writing (not in order of importance)

Beginning with 1 – 5

1) I know that writing is in our blood. Follow the twisty, knotty line of our ancestry back through time, and sooner or later, you’ll reach the storyteller. This storytelling business is part of our human DNA.

2) I know that to be a good writer, you must be awake—really listening, observing, feeling, tasting life. Living life! This is a great gift. But sometimes you’ll curse it. Sometimes you’ll be willing to sell your soul for a few minutes of numbed-out oblivion. Take me to the Devil—just let me watch TV. Resist that impulse and stay awake to write. Pay attention. Surrender to process, to the muse, to the hours. You’ll be so grateful that you did.

3) If you’ve been yearning to write that novel, memoir, poem or article, the first thing to remember is that you’ve already begun. So much of the creative process has to do with what is unconscious—your mind is constantly generating ideas and images outside the realm of consciousness. You’re incubating story seeds and growing stories when you dream, day or night, when you drive to work, when you cook pasta or fold laundry, when you run the dogs, snooze with the cat, or sing with the canary. I know that your stories will grow if you give them a little water and sun and plant food.

4) Give yourself permission (even encouragement) to write badly. Anne Lamott made bad writing famous as “shitty first drafts”. She reminds us that it may take writing five pages of the worst dreaded dreck to produce one excellent line at the top of page 6—that one electric and singing sentence is the one that tells you what you really want to write about.
A writer in one of my classes brought in an article by poet Marvin Bell, who kindly reminds us that, “…the worst part of a poem may contain the seeds of what will become the next poem and, beyond that, bigger and better poems by that writer.” Not only will we survive writing badly—we can make our truest leap forward by risking bad writing.

5) I know you should write wild and risky. Dive deep into the Well of Self. Don’t be afraid of the dark. You’ll often work in the dark and this is a good thing. Surrender to it. Let what is deep inside you rise to the surface.
-Raw and risky is writing without self-censoring. Before you say, why not climb Mt. Everest in flip-flops? I say it’s vital that you give yourself unconditional permission to write whatever comes to mind, especially if a little internal voice tells you—no way cant write about my brother the junkie or my mom’s drinking habit or my vanity or jealousy or my fantasy of strangling my ex’s new beau because heaven forbid people see that part of me because that’s the mean old dirty rotten nasty stinky B-A-D part! The big secret here is that people love to read whatever you think is dirty, nasty or stinky. Also, you are no judge of what is B-A-D when it comes to your voice, your raw material. Your best writing will come out of risking and writing raw. Remember—YOU DON’T HAVE TO SHOW YOUR RISKY WRITING TO ANOTHER SOUL, NOT EVEN YOUR CAT. You will have plenty of time to revise and polish your raw material before it goes out into the world.
So, when you sit down to write, try picturing one of those old movie posters with your name in bold, criss-crossed with the words “Raw and Uncensored!”

To be continued…

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