Sunday, September 2, 2012

Read...Admire what is Good and Write

I received a hand written letter from a young friend last week who tells me she  has been "starting books but keeps on getting writer's block."  I was amazed and excited that this young  woman is aspiring in the realm of writing but dismayed that she had let the concept  of "writer's block" enter into her self motivated exploration of creative fiction.  

Isn't it amazing enough that we take these letters and rearrange them into thoughts and feelings that represent our inner and outer worlds?  And when words don't flow onto the blank page hopefully we are stacking up experience in other know...out there alive and well in life day by day!

It's true that troubles and stress and illness can require the energy and impulse needed to be creative but  rather than concede to the idea of being or having a "writer's block" I want to encourage my young friend that it is better to focus on foundational building blocks.  Hands on living and solid reading  have been the master teachers of many writers.   If we  read texts that have survived the fires of time and fashion, we can study with the best of the best.

The spine of an old book that caught my eye on a  used book shelf

Read old great the Good Book.

In William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White's classic Elements of Style   there is an encouragement to:

Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily to hand. But do not assume that because you have acted naturally your product is without flaw.

The use of language begins with imitation. The infant imitates the sounds made by its parents; the child imitates first the spoken language, then the stuff of books. The imitative life continues long after the writer is secure in the language, for it is almost impossible to avoid imitating what one admires. Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains instead to admire what is good. Then when you write in a way that comes naturally, you will echo the halloos that bear repeating. ( p. 70 3rd Ed 1979 Macmillan Pub.) 
Abraham Lincoln was known to advise : 
A capacity  and taste for reading gives access to whatever has been discovered by others.  It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems.  And not only so; it gives a relish and facility for sucessfully pursuing the unsolved ones. ( p. 30   Abraham Lincoln Wit and Wisdom  1965 The Peter Pauper Press)

Annie Dillard asks: 
Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? ( p. 73 The Writing Life  Harper & Row 1st Ed.)

And having read much  there is  just writing...a reader asked Annie Dillard, "Who will teach me to write?" Her answer:  "The page, the page, that eternal blankness... "( p. 58 The Writing Life  Harper & Row 1st Ed.)

I must thank my young friend for sharing with me that she has begun writing; it is an exciting adventure and one that I enjoy allowing myself.

All the best!

p.s. this post is with much love for A.M.M.