Wrestling the muse. Pinning the genius like a moth to a corkboard. Delving, and distilling until it feels pure and right, then going back and putting it through the fire again. Filling page after page, screen after screen, with scribbles, scratches, and keystrokes.
Why do we do it? How do we do it? What difference do we hope to make by doing it?
What IS it anyway? This writing thing?
For me, it’s an energy overspill, the page is a repository for the soul-stuff that cannot stay inside.
For me, it’s how I create myself, drawing bits of me out into the daylight so that I can see them, accept them, reject them, celebrate them, or change them.
For me, I can no more share of my self without writing, than a sailboat can cross a lake in strong winds by traveling in a straight line.
I can no more understand my self without writing, than I can put on lipstick without a mirror. (Yes, I’ve seen that scene in The Breakfast Club too, but that whole lipstick trick isn’t on my “bucket list.”)
For me, writing is the art of knowing and sharing self.
So when I talk about writing, I’m not talking about the “I need a book to promote my business,” or “I need to write a how-to book so people can learn what I know” kind of exercise.
Writing is not a job, nor is it a vocation. It is a calling, a cause unto itself. Its parents are soul and substance, its birthing waters are sweat and coffee (or tea, or maybe whiskey, but liquids are most definitely required.) Like any other child, writing comes into the world on its own schedule, in its own manner, and immediately begins to make noise.
Which does not mean it comes easily, or that I’m a “natural.”
Art is the manifestation of soul stuff, but manifesting it takes work. It takes practice, and patience. It takes dedication, and determination. Sometimes it takes being willing to turn your back on hours of work just to begin again – simpler, stronger, richer, realer.
It takes knowing the rules, and being willing to break every one of them if they won’t let you say what you mean.
Rules? What Rules?
I started this project of capturing my truth about writing, and my rules for writing, because of Randy Gage. (Whose upcoming book, Mad Genius, I just finished reviewing. Yeah, I’m sorry you have to wait until the official release, I wish I could send a copy to every one of you, but put it on your wish list now.)
Randy’s post, “Rules For Writers” got me to thinking about how we all have a heritage, not of physical DNA, but of ideas. Every writer has a heritage of writers they look to as their way-pavers, and whose rules of writing they hold semi-sacred.
One of my way-pavers was Richard Bach.
And one of his was Ray Bradbury.
Richard told me he got to ask Ray his rules for writing. They were simple – 1000 words or more every day, and never try to edit and write at the same time. (I’ve learned that that last part is scientifically impossible, our brains “can’t” do it. We think we’re good at it, but really we’re “microtasking” and switching back and forth so fast we trick ourselves.)
That’s it. His rule of writing was WRITE!
Richard shared an addendum he’d adopted, which I honor almost to the letter – Never show your work to anyone until you’re ready to defend every word with your life.
And I’ve added mine – Don’t defend your words just because they are your life. Defend them only if they are the best and highest truth of your life.
Rule #1 – Write. A lot. Daily. Without editing or question about quality. Just write.
Rule #2 – Protect what you’ve written. Polish it. And don’t reveal it until it can stand in the spotlight and not apologize for anything.
Rule #3 – Test what you’ve written. Make it more than good, more than great. Make it the highest truth, the deepest truth, the truest truth that has yet to reveal itself to you.
I have thousands of words – some are good. But I am still diving for that deepest truth my life is yet willing to yield.
So that is my own personal rule of writing – bring up the pearl of greatest truth and craft a setting for it that others will understand even if they are not willing to make the dive.
(Notice I didn’t say “that others will love or even like,” I know that the deeper I dive the greater the chance that some will understand my truth well enough to fear and hate it.)
Because the difference I hope to make, out there in our romance-riddled, tragedy-obsessed, and violence-threatened world, will only be as deep as I am willing to go within my self.