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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

  • cmbyl says...

    I too have a very physcial process, with long incubation periods and actual lines composed in my head, whole sentences, dialogue, while I move through the world. I have often tried to explain it to others, but have never heard it put it better than this: "I write when I feel that the work has begun to make itself inside of me.” Thank you.

  • 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.

  • DaveCenker says...

    As the infamous Captain Barbosa once stated, "They're not really rules. They're more like guidelines." Although he was referring to the pirate code and we are referring to the practice of writing, the phrase is equally applicable. To toss a single idea out unto the masses (that being a dedicated writing practice) and expect it to yield similar results exposes our naivety as humans.

    I say this tongue in cheek. For, I myself try to hold myself to a writing practice. However, I refer to it as my imperfect commitment. I don't require myself to sit down and write a certain amount of words every day. I do, however, strongly suggest myself to sit down and write something. I have fallen off the wagon during this practice routine too many times to count. And for me, that's perfectly okay.

    As you so eloquently state, writing because it's something we feel we have to do is defeating the purpose of writing in the first place. We should be in a state of peace with our muse, open and willing for anything it has to communicate through our fingertips. Only then can we access the core of our being, the thoughts that matter most, the ideas that will transform our lives into one with deeper meaning.

    When a piece of work is ready to come out, it will do so on its own accord. But, in order for it to do so, we do need to sit down and write more often than simply thinking about writing. As with everything in life, it is a very delicate and fine balance, one that is not the same for any two individuals. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and best wishes for an inspired day!

    Best Regards,

    Dave
    Inspire and be inspired

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