I was feeling like I couldn’t write – it doesn’t really matter why – it was one of those days: sticky hot, rife with pollen and undone dishes and dreams drifting, uncomfortably unattainable— so I picked up Ron Carlson Writes a Story From the First Glimmer of An Idea to the Final Sentence (he actually includes his entire short story: “The Govenor’s Ball” at the end). This slim book is a mini-MFA semester with this head of the MFA program in fiction at the University of California, Irvine. The biggest lesson: stay at your desk. Keep writing. Stay twenty minutes more. And twenty after that. Finish.I loved this advice (of course I was reading not writing it). But I do believe that the hardest thing is to finish, to get the first draft done, to let the words out.
But there is more. Here are the top five writing insights that I culled from Ron Carlson Writes A Story. I hope he writes many more.
“When people ask me the personal-experience question, my response is that I write my personal experiences, whether I’ve had them or not…Having a feeling for my materials means sending myself on each journey, whether I’ve actually been there or not, and it involves the powerful act of the imagination that good writing requires: empathy.”
“I’m constantly looking for things that are going to help me find the next sentence, survive the story.”
“The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is to stay in the room. The writer is the person who stays in the room.” (Carlson’s italics throughout, but I agree!)
“The single thing I say the most to writers of dialogue is slow down. I actually don’t see much clunky dialogue, but I see a lot of scenes that are too brisk., to summarily done…And in the process of writing dialogue, remember: your characters can’t advance the story because they may not know it yet. That is a reason to slow down, to listen, find out.”
“Our mission is to write the physical scene as closely as we can, knowing that our intentions lie just beyond our knowing. Write, don’t think.”
So we begin again. We turn toward autumn, toward possibility; we return to writing.
Look for my new novel:BEFORE MY EYES (St. Martin's Press) in February of 2014.