|Cartoon by Will McPhail|
|Image Source: Sandy Cangelosi|
One of the best times to write for teachers slash professors is during summer vacation but like Will Self, the English author, I would advise educators to do a substantial brain dump (e.g., ≈ 200 pages) before doing any editing.
Self advised in The Guardian's "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction" (Fri 19 Feb 2010):
“Don't look back until you've written an entire draft, just begin each [summer] day from the last sentence you wrote the preceding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in ... the edit [in the fall]."
|Paper Bag, 1968 | fiberglass, epoxy, paint, and paper|
We went to the Alex Hay's Past Work and Cats, 1963-2020 exhibit at the Peter Freeman, Inc gallery in Soho, and Hay's enthralling fiberglass Paper Bags reminded me of our previous post where we shared that Sylvia Plath reportedly related:
Everything in life is writable about [i.e., art] if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.
Ralph Ellison said:
Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.
Hence, one should never suffer from writer's block, unless one suffers from amnesia or, God forbid, dementia.
In a Life magazine piece (May 24, 1963), James Baldwin shared with Jane Howard:
[...] if you’re an artist, you’re guilty of a crime: not that you’re aware, which is bad enough, but that you see things other people don’t admit are there.
This Baldwin quote reminded of a conversation I had with a colleague about The Allure of Nymphets, which is the book I was writing at the time about nympholepsy in pop culture.
I shared with my colleague that I was writing about an episode of HBO's and Jonathan Ames' Bored to Death where, in a effort to seduce a writer, Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman), a Saint Ann's High School student pretended to be a NYU student.
After fleeing the half-nude nymphet and her distraught father through a bathroom window, Jonathan realized that he left the copy of a movie script behind.
"She’s only 16-years-old!""You didn’t sodomize her did you?" Ray asked."No.” Jonathan responded."That’s too bad." Ray said despondently.
Cosmopolitan's op-ed editor Jessica Goodman shared "How I wrote a novel in my spare time: What, like it’s hard? (Uh, yeah. It’s really, really hard.)"
Despite working "40+ hours a week (in the middle of a pandemic, no less)", Goodman was able to publish the YA thriller They Wish They Were Us, which I first read about in Arts|Fiction section of The Pennsylvania Gazette (Sep|Oct 2020). (I'm currently on page 168 of 327.)
How did Goodman do it? She shared:
First, I found my motivationAfter complaining to a friend, she got real with me: “Do something or stop whining!” She was right. I’d never write the book if I never made the time to, well, write the book. Seems obvious, but I needed to hear it!Then I made a planI started writing every morning before work from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and in four-hour chunks on Saturdays and Sundays.Honestly, it’s my expert-level snack game that helped get me through (Wheat Thins + Nutella = fuel + happiness).I learned to deal with rejectionI started pitching my draft to literary agents in February 2018—and got rejected more than 15 times.I found my rhythmWe sold the book in late 2018, but I didn’t slow down then—or when my book hit shelves. Now my early-morning hours are dedicated to my next novel, and I’m still juggling that with my day job.
Thus, after Goodman was told “Do something or stop whining!”, she began writing from 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM - Monday through Friday and in four-hour chunks on the weekends. After she completed the novel, she persisted, despite 15 rejections, until she found an agent. And almost immediately, she began working on her next novel.
The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone.
Per The Paris Review's "The Art of Fiction No. 151, Martin Amis said,
"The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when he is alone."
And we related previously that Jenn Granneman shared on the blog Introvert, Dear that John Green, The Fault in Our Stars author, opined:
“Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”
Of course, there are a number of writers who are not introverts (e.g., Hemingway); thus, like Baldwin advised, they must actively cultivate the state of being alone to attain the state of feeling alive.
Writing a book is like having an empty pool in the yard and every day going out and throwing in a cup of water to fill it.
This is a good analogy - even for New Yorkers. Although, some writers may throw in more than a cup per day, one of the keys to writing, after picking a topic that one is passionate about, is consistency.
Reportedly, Joyce Carol Oates opined:
First requirement of the writer is the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Second, more urgent requirement, the wish to do so.
However, it appears that Oates may have put the cart [i.e., the ability to concentrate] before the horse [i.e., the wish to do so]. Does Patricia Highsmith and Malcolm Gladwell have better writing advice?
Patricia Highsmith, the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, related that self-amusement is needed to concentrate for long enough to write a book:
The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. If you can amuse yourself for the length of time it takes to write a book, the publishers and the readers can and will come later [إِنْ شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ].
And Malcolm Gladwell advised that a writer has to possess a desire to tell a story:
You need to have a desire to tell the story. You need to be personally invested in some way.
Thus, it appears that if a writer is self-amused and\or is invested in his or her writing, then he or she will (organically) have the ability to concentrate consistently and for long enough to write a book(s).