More on Becoming: The Writing Life

This post is part two of the sage advice from multiple writers regarding “On Becoming a Writer” from The Writing Life. My strategy in commentating on this book is to merely read each short piece, annotate the takeaways, and share the most vital portions of gold I can pan from the riverbed.

John Keegan: The Leap From Necessity To Invention

Keegan began writing out of necessity to pay for his children’s school fees. He channeled his blind self-confidence attempting to bridge the gap between his academic salary (never very much unless you happen to be in administration) and the money needed to pay for his children to attend private school.

The greatest truth he discovered? A writer has to keep on going. The art of keeping on keeping on.

As he kept at it, he learned that what helped him most was his ear for the “rhythm of foreign languages.” Understanding other languages gives a better understanding of our own making their study essential to the vocation of writing.

Susan Minot: A Real-Life Education

Minot never wanted to be a writer; however, reading carried her along to the idea.

She realized that by writing she could both be alone and figure out what was going on inside herself. She became “drunk with words” and was compelled to keep pouring herself out onto the page.

Labeling herself a writer seems a bit much, but she does like that she has the freedom to do what she loves every day: write, write, write.

The way she sees writing: painting pictures, collecting things from muddy ponds, dissecting insides, making things up, putting on costumes, directing the lights, inspecting hearts, entertaining, and dreaming.

Not a bad way of looking at it…

Muriel Spark: Emerging From Your Rejection Slips

At the beginning, Spark met a flood of rejection letters from initial works; however, what she came to see was that many of these works actually became published once she made a name for herself. It just takes those first few until everyone jumps on the bandwagon!

When she begins writing, the topic serves as a magnet where every search she makes leads to that topic. She explains that creativity is mysterious and that it truly doesn’t matter whether a story ends happily, just that it ends well.

Nadine Gordimer Being a Product of Your Dwelling Place

Where and when do we write? That is the question in this section.

Writing is the only profession for which there is no true professional training. Aspiring writers can take one of a few college writing courses or perhaps have a Creative Writing focus when completing their English degree (next to worthless), but they aren’t required to obtain a specific writing degree.

Plus, these classes only really help a student to look at their writing , not to actually create it. The only real school for the aspiring writer is the library.

Once there, what does one write about? Gordimer argues that it is the writers job to use writing as an exploration of life while allowing the reader to come up with the answers. She compares her writing to the function of a lighthouse. The beam of light may briefly reveal some of the surrounding area, but there is a lot of room for the reader to be drawing their own conclusions.

Words become a writers dwelling place and the topics they discuss are not chosen by the author. The where and when of our writing determines that more than any choice we make. Being a member of society means that we must participate and engage within it, meaning that a writer’s topics stem from those issues that take up the near vicinity.

Erica Jong: Doing It For Love

The truth is we write for love.

Erica Jong

Jong explains that when we are truly honest about our feelings and are willing to voice them, we become a mouthpiece for something far bigger.

A novel is elastic while a poem is a bit more stiff. Whichever we choose to write, we should be following our inner voice, not that of the crowd.

A good book kidnaps the reader and leaves them destroyed afterward. Bad things happen to good characters. An ending may not be happy, but it may have a deeper purpose. The important part is really in developing your voice enough so the reader trusts it, so they are willing to follow you on your journey and fall for the kidnapping…

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