Sunday, October 17, 2010

Loving The Water

Loving the water is one of the secrets to writing and re-writing.

If you write what you love, you can endure the many challenges and unexpected obstacles that come with writing... and still write.

Francis Flaherty, an editor for the past fifteen years at The New York Times, observes in his indispensable book on writing, Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing, that writing what you love is essential to the process:
Go find the stuff you love to death. When you find it, many wondrous things will happen. Time will fly. Work will become play. You will feel stoked. If you are prey to self-consciousness and general writerly heebie-jeebies, they will fade or vanish. Of course, the room you walk into may be the wrong one. But you can just walk out, nothing lost, and try a different door. If you are in love with writing (and not just with the idea of writing), there is almost certainly such a door, and it is waiting for you.
This is the kind of wisdom that Flaherty has gained from editing hundreds of stories during his tenure as editor, and it’s only a small fraction of the wisdom that he shares with writers in his wonderful book.

He understands how hard it is for a writer to get into the water, never mind stay in it, if he or she doesn’t love the water.

Without love, the very act of putting words on paper can be dry and arduous, and the process of revision a form of torture.

But when a writer loves words and loves discovering new ways to put them together, she can take pleasure in the act of swimming in words and stories.

Loving the water helps a writer swim through unforeseen challenges, take unexpected risks, and endure the hardships that come with writing.

The dead-ends and wrong turns, the unpaved streets and marshy backroads, the shoals and low tides and the days when it feels like we’re swimming through a desert of sand instead of an ocean of water... all are made bearable, somehow, by love.

Love has the power to change everything–your determination, your dedication, your passion, your willingness to keep searching the water until you find the right word, the right doorway into your stories.

Writing what you love will change your energy and enthusiasm, the way you put words down on paper, the tone and voice, the energy with which you approach your work, and the way that you look at revisions.

With love, revisions are no longer an ordeal to correct “mistakes” but rather an opportunity to make what you love even better.

The next time you find yourself in the doldrums, floundering for words, wondering why you’re unable to find the energy or passion to create a new story or poem, or to spend the time revising what you’ve written, perhaps it’s because you haven’t yet found "the stuff you love to death."

Perhaps you need to examine how you feel about the subject in more depth.

Or, as Flaherty suggests, perhaps you simply need to try a different door.

Remember: write what you love.

It will change everything.

For more information on Flaherty’s book, check out:

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