writer in progress: the joys of being nosy

Writing is not hard. Just get pencil and paper, sit down, and write it as it occurs to you. The writing is easy--it's the occurring that's hard. -- Stephen Leacock

A book is not an end in itself, it is only a way to touch someone--a bridge extended across a space of loneliness and obscurity. -- Isabel Allende

You will wonder: Is the work hard because you're following the wrong path? Or because it's just hard? -- S.L. Wisenberg

Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you. -- Bernard Malamud

It goes without saying, but just in case you missed the memo, here I am to say it:

If you write, do yourself a favor, and read books on writing.

If you're like me, you can't help it. You do this regardless. I have stacks of books on my desk right now that are crammed with writerly wisdom, writerly advice. Not so much of the "here's how to plot, here's how dialogue works, here's how to find an agent." That's all vital and good, but it's businessy, and what I'm after is this:

Here's how I sit, this is my morning routine, this is what works for me, this is what doesn't.

I am deeply nosy about how they do the work they do. It's both a comfort (when I'm stalled, scared, procrastinating) and a friendly spur to get me started on my own projects.

So I read. I eavesdrop on their lives.

Read Rules of Thumb to get permission from Kate Bernheimer: you're allowed to keep your work a secret. Or to hear from Steven Barthelme: fill your work with your obsessions. His: cats. Mine: outcasts. Good to know that's allowed.

Or pick up Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and learn about short assignments, fill your life with index cards, learn to do a plot treatment. Along the way, watch how she copes with disappointment, how she finds inspiration. And for goodness' sake, let her teach you how to forgive your first drafts.

One of my favorites is The Writer's Desk, with its stunning black and white photos of Stephen King, Eudora Welty, P.G. Wodehouse...

And how comforting is it to know that Anthony Powell has a hard time ignoring the telephone, just like me? That Robert Coles stares out the window, that Joyce Carol Oates daydreams, doodles, doesn't hurry?

Maybe it's silly to need permission to be a writer, to have writerly quirks, but I do love to get it.

It's the camaraderie of the thing: someone's keeping you company in what is, otherwise, a lonely, weird, and occasionally desperate endeavor. They shine light into the places you're confused about; or at the very least, they say hey, that's dark for me, too.

They keep me company in my flaws, speak to my weaknesses, identify the craziness and blindness of it all. They're also good at giving permission to celebrate those successes, joys, and all the bliss when the words are right.

It's a wonderful cycle: Writers comfort other writers with words. They send us our favorite gifts (books!) with wisdom attached. It's kind of sweet.

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