Here are some anecdotes that make some good points about all of this.

When Tom Wolfe had his first major assignment as a reporter, he did all of the legwork and got all the information ready and then became totally blocked. He went to his boss, the editor, and told him that he couldn't do it. The editor said, "OK, get all your material together, put it down so someone can make sense out of it, and I'll have George do it." Wolfe went home, wrote, "Dear George, this is what I have," at the top of the page, then laid out all the information for him. When he took it in the next day and handed it to his boss, his boss took it, scratched out "Dear George" and told him to give it to the printer. (When the pressure is off, you write better. You may have to trick yourself into it.)

In another anecdote, Wolfe says that he goes to write at a studio away from his home so he won't be distracted. He says that he first gave himself so many hours to put in before he could leave and go home. But he found that he could waste 4, 5, or 6 hours doing nothing just as easily as he could waste 2 or 3. His solution was to force himself to write 1 page per half hour until he wrote 4 pages, and then he could quit. He says that he's always able to force out 1 page every half hour even when it seems awful. On bad days he does his 4 pages and quits. The strange thing, he says, is that later on when he looks back over what he's written, he can't tell the difference between the pages he forced out and the ones he wrote when he felt inspired. (Y ou can't trust your emotions when they're negative. No writer can judge his own work.)

A little girl asked her father what he did at the school where he worked. "I teach people how to draw pictures," he said. "You mean they forgot?" she said. (Y ou have what you need already. You just have to learn [remember] how to use it.)

A mother asked her little boy what he was drawing. "I'm drawing a picture of God," he said. "But no one knows what God looks like," she said. "They will when I get done," he said.

The teacher divided her pottery class into two groups. The first group was told they would be graded only on quality. They would make only one pot that semester, but spend the entire time making the perfect pot. The second group was told that they would be graded on quantity alone. The more pots they made, the higher their grades. At the end of the semester, which group do you think made the better pots? The quantity group had produced far better pots than the quality group. (Quantity leads to quality. You cannot learn on one pot-or one story.)

Write the way you talk. The language of fiction is simple, emotional, direct. Don't send the reader to the dictionary. Use small words.


These are things we need to remind ourselves of over and over. This list is worth going over on a regular basis to help prevent blocking.

There is always resistance to writing; the first line. Write an instant line as soon as you sit down.

You must write badly first.

You don't think in order to write. You write in order to think. You don't get into the mood to write. You write to get into the mood. Write first. Think second.

You don't do it. It does you. Open up, and let it happen. Get out of the way.

Negative emotions (attacks on your work or yourself) are always wrong and beside the point. Whatever is happening is OK. It's the process, not you.

The story already exists. You're just writing to uncover the pieces and fit them together.

You are as good as your best writing. If you stick to it, no matter how deeply you slump, you will return to your best level and exceed it. Then you will fall away again. It's up and down just like the rest of your life (good days and bad days). You will always fall away, but you will always come back and exceed yourself-if you stick to it. Bad days are as important as good ones.

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