From Where I Sit – Advice To and From Writers

Would-be writers seek out the counsel of those who have succeeded. We hope for kernels of inspiration and, please dear God, some shortcuts to success. We latch onto any crumbs of insight or advice buried in the countless how-to books and blogs which have become an industry unto themselves.

I especially love to hear about writers? routines. Do they get up pre-dawn, or write into the wee hours when the entire world is asleep? Do they write a set number of words or pages or hours a day? Do they write longhand like Alistair MacLeod, or with a computer? Do they write in silence at home or in the hubbub of a coffee shop? Do they live and write in New York City (Julia Cameron) or the desert of New Mexico (Natalie Goldberg) or the smaller cities of Saskatoon (Yann Martel) and Edmonton (Lynn Coady)? I want to voyeuristically know it all.

Watching author interviews on Book TV allows a peek into (usually) book-filled offices. With some there is chaos; with others, a sort of sterility. My own office leans toward the former because It’s too damn small for all I need near me.

I also love leafing through books of quotations by writers. Are they really that clever and cynical, or do they hide their innate insecurity in barbed words of irreverence?

There are many diverse and opposing views on the how-to of writing success. For your consideration I’ve collected some of the usual aphorisms, followed by a famous quote that either supports or torpedoes it:

1) Writing is a God-given talent. Or not. Gene Fowler said, ?Writing is easy: all you have to do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.?

2) Write what you know. Christopher Isherwood seems to agree: ?One should never write down or up to people, but out of yourself.?

3) Discipline is the answer to success. For Ernest Hemingway that meant ?wearing down seven number-two pencils is a good day’s work.? Anthony Trollope, on the other hand, thought ?Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.?

4) Read, read, read. Mark Twain said, ?The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.? On the other hand, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg said, ?A book is a mirror; if an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to peer out.?

5) You’ve got to drink in order to write. E.B. White said, ?Before I write, I always treat myself to a nice dry martini. Just one, to give me the courage to get started. After that, I am on my own.? Ring Lardner believed that ?No one, ever, wrote anything as well even after one drink as he would have done without it.?

The final advice comes from Guy de Maupassant: ?Get black on white.? Couldn’t have said it better myself, from where I sit.