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  • Writer's pictureAnca

Teach me how to write

I am 55 hours and 34 minutes away from knowing how to write. And when I will finally know how to write, nothing will be left unsaid: childhood adventures, teenage sadness, adult anxiety, will all get a place in language. The worlds to be created, the lives to be changed, the dreams to be dreamt.  I better get started right away! I am only 55 hours and 34 minutes from knowing how to write. 

old typewriter

The first time I wrote a story, I had not yet learnt how to write. But that did not stop me. I was filling frantically page after page of curly scribbles, impressions that a five year old mind had of writing, and they were all of fantastic worlds and compelling characters. A few years later I would learn the letters and was able to write words for others to read.

But the more intelligible my writing became, the more difficult it was to write the stories. It was as if I had traded in imagination for precision and in learning how to write words, I lost the ability to write stories. 

Now I want to relearn how to write stories again and  I need help with it. People that have written, people that I have read, they shared thoughts on their writing process. They must be able to teach me how to write again.  I will go to them first. And I will listen to their books. I have collected a total of 55hours and 34 minutes of books on writing. 

Ray Bradbury recalls in "Zen in the art of writing" that the bud in his stories are the deep impressions left on his young mind. He claims to remember his own birth and gave his baby self the stage to write the story "The small assassin". He remembers the horrors at the fun-fair as a child and writes the story of the man horrified to realize he has a skeleton under his skin (The Skeleton). For Ray Bradbury, sincerity and authentic emotion is what makes writing possible. He is a perpetual writer of memories, even when he writes " The Martian Chronicles" 

Stephen King describes his process in "On writing" and confesses that his work is one of an archeologist. He only needs to have his characters and a situation. The rest is to let them figure their way around that situation. He wrote many stories and published them sporadically at first.  The character of his first novel, Carrie made him highly uncomfortable and he even discarded the first draft. For him, the story exists and he is merely uncovering it and plotting it in words. He says writing is telepathy. He puts his thoughts on paper and by reading them they become thoughts in the minds of others. 

The issue with writing is figuring out what you want to say first and then say it. What you want to say comes from deep inside, from the place where we are all the same organism.  Either prince or pauper there is a place where yearning, disappointment, joy and sadness are our fundamentally human language. 

Kurt Vonnegut writes to stay sane. His masterpiece Slaughterhouse five is his way of processing his experience as a soldier in World War II and the bombing of Dresden. He writes in the introduction; 

"I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big.  But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then -- not enough of them to make a book, anyway. And not many words come now, either, when I have become an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls, with his sons full grown. " 

Kurt Vonnegut masters paragraph writing, and in the writing course he taught, he advised quite plainly to pity your reader ("Pity the Reader: On writing with Style"). Give the reader a chance to understand what you mean. He insisted on writing like a human, about something you deeply care and confessed that: "When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth." 

When you finally know what I want to say, I would need to know how to say it. About a century ago, William Strunk wrote "Elements of style", a sober and helpful guide to writing in English. He teaches to write honestly, correctly and in plain language. Only after mastering the plain language can one play with the elements of style the masters of literature employ. Writing is done in language and languages have rules which are best to be followed. 

" ... the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he [the writer] is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules." 

Quite a step away from the concrete rules of style of William Strunk we find in "Save the cat: writes a novel" by Jessica Brody. She gives a bit by bit formula of writing a best seller. While Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut describe writing as a cabalistic occupation, they being the first to be charmed in their own magic, for Jessica Brody it is a collection of magic tricks.  She demystifies the writing process like a magician's assistant that found the secret book of tricks. How many pages are appropriate for pondering an existential crisis?

An analysis of the form in writing is also "The art of storytelling" by Will Storr, but the form he follows is that of archetypes. He also talks about typologies and manipulative stylistic mechanisms in writing but rather than being an arid exercise, the art of story telling has an unapologetic way of reconnecting us to our dreams, in the spirit of Joseph Campbell's

"The hero with a thousand faces". And if the only stories worth telling are the stories we all know, then writing is indeed archeology. 

I spent 55 hours and 34 minutes on learning how to write and I can confidently say that no one can teach you how to write as no one can teach you how to live. Pick up a pen and perhaps you need first to scribble unintelligibly the story before writing the words. 

Pick up a pen is the first and last lesson in writing.  


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