Know that you have talent, are original, and have something important to say. - Brenda Ueland

Monday, March 28, 2011

Reading + Writing: Love Match

Most every writer when asked for advice has two recommendations right away:

1) Write, and
2) Read.

Professional, experienced writers mention how many aspring writers don’t read, which they don’t understand. I don’t either. It blows my mind. If I didn’t love to read so much I wouldn’t want to write. It wouldn't occur to me to write. I’m certain of it.

It hit home the other day just how powerful and beneficial the simple act of reading good stuff can be.

I read From Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik last week. I love Gopnik's writing. It’s the kind that does what for me is so difficult and so admirable: take a universal concept and put it into fresh, accessible terms that makes readers like me swoon.

Too often when I read a particularly well-written passage and I am frankly envious. Discourgaged. Because that was so good and will I ever write that well?

This wasn’t like that. This inspired.

"...anticipating six o'clock when I begin, as one almost always does, no matter what one is cooking, by chopping onions.

The beautiful part of cooking lies in the repetition, living the same participles, day after day, planning, shopping, chopping, roasting, eating, and then vowing, always, never again to start on something so ambitious again…until the dawn rises, with another dream of something else. (Hunger, I always find, plays a very small role in it at all.)


The sublime moment of cooking, though, is really the moment when nature becomes culture, stuff becomes things. It is the moment when the red onions have been chopped and the bacon has been sliced into lardons and the chestnuts have been peeled and they are all mijoteing together in the pot, and then – a specific moment –the colors begin to change, and the smells gather together just at the level of your nose."

That made me want to write. Made me want to cook, too, but it made me want to write.

It stirred something in my mind and I made a connection - I could practically hear the click, just as it sounds when I fasten my seatbelt - and I was off, typing as fast as I could to get it down.

It's almost too good to be true that one of my favorite things - reading - can also help inform my writing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Funny: Knowing Isn't the Same Thing as Doing

How many times have we heard that thinking about writing isn't writing? Talking about writing isn't writing. Planning to write isn't writing. Meaning to write isn't writing. Wanting to write isn't writing.

I know this. Still, I'm gathering thoughts and ideas for another novel. I've been thinking about the characters, digging deeper so I can know them better. I've been noodling over the plot, the turning points, and the key scenes.

But what I hadn't so much doing had been...writing it.

Maybe most writers need a little fallow time to nourish the creative soil. I think I do, but I also know that a little downtime can creep toward procrastination, which after too long, can feel paralyzing, like I can't write.

Last week I dug in and actually began, you know: WRITING the novel, rather than jotting down notes for scenes and ideas about where the characters live and why her mother is like that. Stitching up the characters' backstory, knowing which corner store they visit and why, and that in 4th grade she stole a book from the school library, all that's important for the author to know. For me, the tempation is to dwell in all that minutiae, all that planning and getting-ready-to.

Reading Elizabeth Gilbert's piece on writing helped spur me on.

I had to dig in and do it. Now I've started, and it's exhilarating and scary at the same time. Isn't it always?

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Sunday afternoon we drove through midtown Memphis, down Poplar Avenue that dips in and out of neighborhoods. I looked down each residential street we passed. I thought how every one of those houses has a hundred stories and I want to know them all.