Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Deeper Joy of Writing

This week I read John Rember's MFA in a Box and it hooked me in the introduction with this paragraph:

     “I hope that when you finish this book you’ll be able to balance the despair of writing with the deeper joy of writing. I hope you’ll find the courage to put truth into words. I hope you’ll find reasons for being kind and intelligent in the presence of your readers and characters. I hope you’ll understand that writing is a life-and-death endeavor, but nothing about a life-and-death endeavor keeps it from being laugh-out-loud funny.
     “I hope you’ll finish this book with more reasons to write than not to write.”

I’d like to share a few of my favorite bits from the text with you here:

“If a part of your story doesn’t puncture or betray another part, you haven’t finished the story.

One crystal-clear vision is worth more to your reader than a dozen brilliant conclusions. Let your reader draw the brilliant conclusions from your vision.

If a story or poem isn’t ending well, go back to the point where you saw what you had to do next and decided it was too scary or too much work, and took the easy way out.

Every draft takes a layer off the surface of your consciousness. Rewriting is a form of personal archaeology, and the good stuff is never on the surface.

Don’t pride yourself on your empathy. You have less than you think you have. Most of the time what you think is empathy is projection, where you assume that someone else’s inside is just like your inside, warts and all. It’s not. People who have been married for twenty years sometimes look at each other and discover they have no idea who the other person is.

Keep a list of the images that have awakened your soul. It’s your personal iconography.”



For me, finding words like these that resonate with my writer’s soul, can be just what I need to keep me at a project, when it would be easier to cast it aside and start something new.

Do you have a favorite quote that keeps you writing through the rough spots?

41 comments:

  1. Wow, sounds like a great book. Thanks for recommending it!

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  2. Oh, and here's a C.S. Lewis quote that helped me break through a rough spot a few years back.

    "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

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    1. That's a great quote. Thanks so much for sharing it =)

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  3. There are lots of quotes that make me think, but the one that makes me write is : 'Just Write.' It works :-)

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    1. Hah, so funny, Sarah. Nothing fancy necessary, huh? I guess it gets right to the point.

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  4. I love quotes, but surprisingly I don't have one I turn to all the time. I prefer finding new ones to speak to me at different times. I'm adding this on to my list. Thanks!

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    1. You're welcome, Kelly. Glad you like them.

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  5. I love writing quotes, but my favourite are sections of poetry (even though I'm definitely no poet) that are so beautiful they inspire me to write something good, something memorable. Or just something publishable, really. One day, one day...

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    1. There are really so many things that can inspire us if we let them.

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  6. These are great Ruth! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I love spreading the word when I find something that speaks to me.

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  7. Handwritten in my husband's great-great-grandmother's Bible:

    "When I think of coming to the end, I rally."

    ... words which apply to an ultimate end or goal, of course, but can also apply to intermediate goals--like the end of a story, chapter, or novel.

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    1. Beautifully put, Sarah. What a treasure. Thanks so much for sharing that.

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  8. This is fabulous! I think I want to hit Barnes and Noble right now! Or at least it get on my amazon wish list so I can purchase it on my next order. Awesome stuff. I love quotes. They totally help me out.

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  9. Those quotes are fabulous. I like to read them before I write, they get me going.

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    1. There were so many more I wanted to share. This book was chock full of good stuff ;)

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  10. This is such excellent advice. I especially liked his comment "Every draft takes a layer off the surface of your consciousness. Rewriting is a form of personal archaeology, and the good stuff is never on the surface." Thanks for sharing, Ruth.

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  11. Wow! These are incredible quotes. I think I need to read this book! Thanks so much for sharing. These are words which shore us up and make us better at what we do.

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    1. I love spreading the word about good books. I hope you do get it ;)

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  12. Just the rev-up I need today. Some writers write so well about writing.

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  13. Sounds like a fab book!! New follower here!! :D

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  14. I loved the quote about rewriting being a personal archeology. Beautiful. Thanks so much for suggesting this book.

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    1. I had a hard time keeping this post short. I had quite a list of quotes I wanted to share.

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  15. I love reading quotes for inspiration! I usually keep a word doc open for copying and pasting when I find one I like.
    Here's one that keeps me inspired/focused:
    "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal." – Henry Ford

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    1. That's a great one, Coleen. Thanks for sharing it. Great idea about keeping a running word doc open for quotes. I do that for my To Be Read list because I'm always adding to that.

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  16. This book sounds like a treasure itself. Love the philosophy.

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  17. So much wisdom and inspiration here, Thank you.

    This was very thought provoking for me:
    “If a part of your story doesn’t puncture or betray another part, you haven’t finished the story."

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  18. That sounds like a wonderful book! Thanks for sharing some of it with us, Ruth!

    The quote that always pops into my head is from Yoda: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

    Stephanie (Ani)

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  19. That author has been inside my head! I do that thing about deciding that a certain plot line is too scary or too much work and, yes, I take the easy way out. *note to self: don't be so wimpy* Thanks for sharing.

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  20. Wow, these are good. Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Dang, this sounds like a very inspirational book for writers! Those quotes are awesome.

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  22. These quotes speak so honestly. This got to me instantly because I always bear this secret fear I might be taking the easy ways out for my stories:

    "If a story or poem isn’t ending well, go back to the point where you saw what you had to do next and decided it was too scary or too much work, and took the easy way out."


    I have a page of quotes to root me on whenever my spirit's weak. Some days, the famous Natalie Goldberg's 'Just Write' paragraph does the trick. Some days, it's reading Ray Bradbury's 'Zen in the Art of Writing' and feel his infectious joy for writing that makes me spring to my desk.

    "Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the centre of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write."
    Natalie Goldberg

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  23. Oh my gosh-- this book sounds so fabulous! I love all the quotes you chose. So very good!

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  24. I like Ernest Hemingway: "The first draft of anything is shit." I figure if his were bad, it's okay for mine to be. It gets me through the part in the middle where the inner critic wants to make me stop.

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  25. I don't really collect quotes, but it's always nice to read them. I love the first quote - I always try to have characters clashing and being at cross purposes, that's what it's all about to me. Well, not ALL, but I like to keep things mixed up.

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  26. I enjoy novels in verse. I just can't write them. These sound wonderful. Thanks for posting.

    I kind of like: "Writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger." Pico lyer

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