In the Writing Rink

Did you ever watch someone write? It’s not the most exciting activity to observe, like, say, watching a hockey match, especially up close where you feel it when the players crash into the fiberglass.

Working in an office populated by writers, I get the chance to observe people writing. Some stare at the screen a lot, then maybe stare into space, then maybe type out a few words, perhaps soon deleting them. As they say, you stare at a blank page until your forehead bleeds.

Others type in a frenzy, their fingers unable to keep up with the thoughts flying through their mind. If you look at the keyboards of these writers, you will see that several letters have been worn down to nothing.

More interestingly, writers have different approaches to writing.

According to conventional wisdom, it’s best to rough out a sloppy first draft as quickly as possible, what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft.” No pressure to be good, just get stuff down. Then you go back and spend subsequent drafts focusing on quality.

Great advice, but not the only way.

I know some excellent writers who do the exact opposite. They write their first sentence. Then they tinker with it, unable to proceed to the next sentence until they’re pleased with the first. And so on. Weike Wang, one of our teachers, works this way, and you’ll see an excerpt of her new novel, Chemistry, later in this newsletter.

Here’s the technique I favor. I do most of my writing by not writing. I ponder the material. And I don’t even ponder that hard. I just let myself think about it when I’m doing other things, like walking to work or taking a shower or fading into sleep. The ideas come when they’re ready, always.

I make notes here and there, and, yes, I’ve dashed out of the shower, sliding on the floor, to write something down. It’s all brewing, like coffee seeping through a filter.

I don’t do any real writing until I have too much to say. And then I pour out the coffee, fingers flowing across the keyboard. I compose these letters this way, and I seldom spend more than 40 minutes with the actual writing.

I find it a fairly painless way to write. Maybe you will too.

Truth is, it makes no difference how you write, but it’s always better to be writing than wishing you were. As the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky says, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

If you feel like taking some shots, our Summer term is starting now. Skate onto our ice and shoot.

Alex Steele

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.