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Elissa Washuta Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 8.21.14

“Over the last seven years, as I have worked to write and revise my first book and then claw a second one out of my gut, I’ve heard too many times that any successful writing practice will involve a minimum daily word count, good and round, or a slavish devotion to page and screen, no matter the quality of what comes. This advice used to make me insecure about my own practice, which, early in my book-building process, included stretches as long as a summer without writing. I have learned that there are plenty of ways to show up at one’s work: incessant contemplation, research, and the unconscious mapping of structure that might come as the body moves in the world. For a while, I tried to forgive myself for not writing every day, but now that the work of my first memoir is complete, I realize that taking long breaks, pacing my work, and allowing for retreat is nothing that needs forgiveness: My brain was protecting itself as it turned traumatic memory into crafted prose. An unflagging commitment to output might have gutted me. Now, with patience, I write when I feel that the work has begun to make itself inside of me.”
—Elissa Washuta, author of My Body Is a Book of Rules (Red Hen Press, 2014)

Reader Comments

  • C J says...

    Thank you for this. Beautifully put.

  • Sigrid Heath says...

    Recently I've read a couple of reports from writers that, like Elissa Washuta's comments, have pulled back from the 'rules', you must write something every day, having a word count or some other measurable goal in mind is a necessary part of the discipline, &c. It's such a relief to read that this isn't true for every writer. I'm working on a novel never having written one before and I'm 67. Facing my computer every day felt like facing a firing squad. Yet I persevered. You must show up! The terror damn near killed me. It wasn't fear of not producing, I can always write (I've written for newspapers, so know how to produce), the story's clear and I'm still in love with it. My terror is simply that the work isn't good enough which, of course, means that I am not good enough. This summer I gave myself permission to take days off. I live on a Greek island within walking distance of the sea, so I'd swim. I swam for about a month before I began again to write. Now I write when it reaches critical mass and I can't NOT write. Meanwhile, the characters are yammering away in my head. I take notes. Or I'll go back in the manuscript - I'm at about the half-way point - and change something, add language, delete language. No one is waiting for this work, I'm doing it because I decided I needed to tell this story. It is now telling itself in its own time.

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