How does writing happen?

I recently read an E.B. White’s interview, in The Paris Review.

The title of the interview is: The Art of the Essay N. 1. I like writing essays, and I’ve written everything from strictly academic essays to creative essays, and as in many other things, I’m always learning and improving. I knew E.B. White as the White in Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, which is a must-have elegant and precise book on style and grammar and many other tips on the use of English language in writing. But I never made the connection with the White of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. Silly me.

It’s a long interview and it paints an interesting portrait not only of the writer but also of the times and ideas of his writing. I’m looking forward to read some of his other work, now, even though my List of Things to Read gets ever longer.

In particular, I fell completely in love with this passage:

Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer—he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. Delay is instinctive with him. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along. I have no warm-up exercises, other than to take an occasional drink. I am apt to let something simmer for a while in my mind before trying to put it into words. I walk around, straightening pictures on the wall, rugs on the floor—as though not until everything in the world was lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonably expect me to set a word down on paper.

See, see? It’s not procrastination, at all! That’s what is, the waiting around for the right words to come in, the looking out of the window, the desperate sudden need to wash the previous week’s dishes, and yes, that too, the blurry windows have to be cleaned, now, and the mud on those shoes, look at that, can’t possibly be tolerated, and, and! I have to go buy groceries, right now.

Okay, yes, I’m being facetious. But I love that paragraph, I adore the sense of ‘me’ as a writer, the refusal to bend for someone else’s expectations of how writing happens.

Writing is hard work, and it’s different for each of us.

We shouldn’t let someone else’s expectations dictate how and when we write (every morning, every day, three pages per day, from 3 to 5, in chronological order, following an outline, mind mapping, and so forth). We need to experiment, yes, and listen to advice, and pay attention to our circumstances: for example, no point in pretending to write each day 10.000 words, if we have a day job, or a family, or other responsibilities. We’re just setting us up for failure, or for complaining.

But most importantly, we need to discover and then nurture and support how does writing happen for us. I still haven’t found a reliable routine, but I’ll keep experimenting.

Have you found your way to make your writing happen? I’d like to know 🙂

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Filed under Quotes and Quotations, Writing

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