a reader’s questions answered on writing

18 02 2010

Kathleen Nolan asked a few questions on writing. You can find her at


On Twitter @readwritecook

* Why is it so hard to write even when it is the thing I most want to do?

There are endless reasons, and some that are common to all writers and others that are specific to you. I can only answer the ones common to all writers, but I think each writer must answer for herself the specific why’s as to the difficulty of writing. Self-knowledge is an imperative for a writer. It’s my opinion that the extent that we know ourselves is the extent we can know our characters (in fiction), and other people (in non-fiction). You cannot be a really good writer without a whole bunch of looking inward, although people try it all the time, and in my opinion, the result is writing that is shallow or undeveloped and ultimately uninteresting.

Some of the common reasons; (I am a non-fiction writer so therefore am going to address that genre here)

-to sit in a chair alone not speaking to anyone for hour after hour is plain old difficult.

-Grace Paley once said in a workshop I was in that the state that writers need to be in to work, is the state that most people are paying therapists to get out of.

-writing in particular is an art form that creates something from absolutely nothing. We make worlds with little black marks on the page and they have to make sense, be emotional, and touch something universal as well as reveal something personal.

– the level of vulnerability is hard to live with.

*In your opinion, what makes someone a really good writer?

For me, there are three things that make someone a really good writer.

1. The amount of personal emotional processing that the writer has done in their own life with regard to the past.

2. Their voice (which is to say, their ability to connect with the reader)

3. Craft. The writer’s understanding of rhetorical frames, architecture of the piece, rhythm, editorial surgery, etc.–all the aspects of the craft of writing. (And there IS an actual craft to it, which is where many writers stop. It takes years of practice to learn the craft of something).

*How do you get your own writing done? Do you suggest a writing schedule?

I make many sacrifices in my life to write. it’s just the way it is when you feel you must pursue something. I know the Winter Olympic athletes understand, and I don’t view myself as any different from them, although I wish I could get a sponsor and have great sporty clothes to sit here and write in and look as strong and healthy as them.

Nothing gets done without setting up some kind of schedule and sticking to it. People get up early everyday and go to the gym, it’s the same thing. You must log many many hours at the desk of practice, and so because human beings tend to take the path of least resistance in most cases, a writing schedule can be very supportive if you tend to cast it aside when something else comes up. I view my writing as a job. I show up for it just like I would do for any job, the difference is, I really enjoy showing up to write.

*What are some of your favorite books on writing?

Mostly, I view books on writing as comforting, but none of them have gotten me writing. What has gotten me writing and where I HAVE LEARNED TO WRITE is from reading reading reading. I read like people drink water. I read everything I can find that may be of interest, inspiration and help. When I was first starting out, in the early 1990’s back in Palo Alto, California, I read Virginia Woolf and Ethan Canin and John L’Heureax and Annie Dillard and that’s how it started even though I have been writing consistently since third grade. Reading them made me want to make stories of my own, and I have always felt I have something to say through writing.

But here is a small list of some books on writing that I have read and have gained some useful insight.

Brenda Euland, So You Want To Write

Joyce Carol Oates, The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art

Stephan King, On Writing

Annie Lamott, Bird by Bird

Virginia Wolf, Moments of Being, and, A Writers Diary

E.M. Forester, On Writing

Hope those answers are a start. The main thing is not to let any voices stop you from getting to the desk and writing. That’s the main thing.




2 responses

24 02 2010
Kathryne Neches

So true,so true. I have also been inspired and comforted by “Writing Done the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg. The thing that works best is to just write. The process ultimately produces the product.

24 02 2010

Thanks so much for this post. I feel totally spoiled. Yes, you are so on target about the vulnerability that comes up when we write. That raw, messy place is where the good stuff is but it can be very hard to sit with. (We’re back to living in the moment and accepting what is, aren’t we?)

I love what you say about not letting the voices stop you from writing. I do get caught up in my head. I heard Anne Lamott (one of my favorite writers) speak about the process once and she said a lot of the time when she writes things don’t go very well. That blew me away. It’s even hard for her!

It makes me laugh that I asked you about writing books. I’ve read so many…I just need to get down to the writing. I’m committing to a schedule which I think will help rather than trying to fit the writing into my day. Thank you so much, Bindu. You are very inspiring.

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