Equations for Good Writing

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I spent a lot of years thinking about writing. Talking about writing. Reading about writing (just like you are right now), which led to some of the best advice I’ve gotten: at some point you need to stop talking about it and just write.

“Just write, Karen, and I’ll take care of the rest.” (That’s what the still small voice whispered.) So, years later, I did. With much encouragement and admonishment from tolerant friends and the world around me, I picked up my pen believing the words and stories would finally spill forth unchecked (having worked up such a froth in my head). I thought I might actually be stunned by how easy it was–by the sheer joy of the starting the real process of writing! (I’m an optimist, if you haven’t guessed already).

So, so wrong.

It’s “W.O.R.K.” Hmm, a four letter word. Curious.

I’m a mutt:  80% German, 15% North American Indian, and maybe 5% Scottish (one can dream), so harnessing the spirit or vision or story inside with dogged determination is my go-to equation for the a fore mentioned bad word. This serves me well as a writer, but at an early point I had to admit that, while I was willing to mine the diamond out of my soul, I wanted someone else to set it in platinum. Someone else to shine it up. To give it value. Tell me its worth.

Well, that’s the funny thing about writing–about any kind of art, for that matter. The diamond can’t be found if you don’t know it’s there, and then go digging around for it. You need to have the tools, good lighting, and some caffeine to prop you up along the way. Then what do you do once you bring it out into the air? What a shock! This thing, which the world is willing to spend big money on just to hold it up to the light, is not ready for the world. It is a diamond, yes, but it’s dirty, lacks form and clarity, and is not very different from any other diamond. It could shine, but it doesn’t yet. All that effort to get to this point to realize that the real work is just beginning? I could go on with the analogy, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, I think you get it.

I’m not very mathematical, but here are few equatial (I beg you to let me make this an adjective) ideas. And let me add the disclaimer that there is no new advice under the sun, only new ways to express it. I offer whatever I know about writing more as an heirloom or gift to pass on:

If you want to write: You must read what others have slaved to put on paper + Choose something similar in shape to the story or idea rolling around inside your own head + (Examine it. Ponder it. Take it slice by slice or eat it whole, no matter.) = Your Good Words on Paper. Variable: if you don’t read because you don’t have time, then, quite simply, you don’t have time to write.

If you can’t carve (or hack) out time to read, then how will you carve out time to write? Oh, Agonizing Patience That Craft Requires, why do you elude me?

Yep, it’s that simple. You read, then you write, you read, then you write. This is advice from my former, esteemed professor, and from Stephen King, and from–well, I can’t think of anyone else, but that’s enough for me and I know it’s true.

Let me risk repeating myself with a snappy word problem: Make time to read some good stuff, then stop reading and start writing. When you get stuck (sometimes known as the fallacy, “writer’s block”), read some more, then write some more. If you don’t write, you won’t have anything to re-write–and rewriting is polishing. Eventually, you WILL have a diamond. If you don’t read, then what will you have? (The answer is “D, None of the above.”)

If you are holding the diamond in your palm and you polish long enough, with enough determination and perseverance and encouragement (the proportions are likely connected to your DNA), you will uncover the shine. Period.

Then you won’t need someone to set it in platinum. Or put a monetary value on it or tell the world its worth. You will know it.  It will be because you formed it: tangible and unique and beautiful, fashioned out of the wonder of your heart, the curiosity of your mind, the truth of your experience. And from your beliefs and eyes and ears and skin…something priceless.

Lastly, you go belly up, all paws in the air, stare at the sun and clouds for a spell, then put your hardhat back on your head, kick up a jig and start digging again. If you are an optimist like me, you are sure beyond a shadow that it will be easier the next time (insert smirk). Ah, the life of a writing writer.

So, time to stop reading about writing and just write. (But only after you read!)