My name is Pip and yes, I am a twitter addict. I check and refresh and update my twitter feed as much as is humanly possible throughout the day and night. First thing in the morning and last thing at night. Lunch. On the train. Walking up the street. I get my news in 140 characters. I get my gossip. I get my laughs. I get…connected. And I find things, like Paris Review interviews with obscure (to me) poets that are terrifically inspiring and revealing of the writing process and ideas and imagination, that I would never have found any other way.But lately I have become obsessed within this obsession. Jon Winkour’s Advice for Writers is doing my head in. I follow him on twitter and each day he tweets one or two quotes or links to advice by famous and not so famous writers about writing, life and grammar. I read these tweets and then email them to myself to read later or to continue to think about or to write out and stick on my study wall. Quotes from Colm Toibin like ‘Stay in your mental pyjamas all day’ and ‘Always finish what you start’ seem too simple to hold insight but they connect with me and my headspace about a lot of different things – especially the current state of my writing and my writing practice. And there are some real gems:
‘Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.’ Anne Enright
‘Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case.’ Annie Dillard
Ah ha, I hear you saying. Yes, that’s right. I understand now. We all nod our heads sagely in agreement.
My growing problem, though, is that I forward these tweets to my inbox and then I file them in my folder ‘Links’ to look at later and then I find there is no ‘later’. I just keep adding to this folder and now have hundreds of helpful suggestions, advice and links to more and more helpful advice sitting there just waiting for me to find the time to be enlightened, inspired and productive. But it’s not happening.
I think this practice has to stop really, doesn’t it? Because inadvertently I wind up not doing very much writing and looking to these snippets of information as the holy grail, the silver bullet, the one thing I need to know to finish the book, the short story, the film script I am working on. But, as Anne Lamott says in her superb book Bird by Bird, writing is all about writing. Yes, there is the thinking, the observing, the imagining but ultimately, it is the writing that makes a writer.
And, on thinking about it (‘Don’t think,’ Ray Bradbury said), none of these writers who have pieces of advice to give, got to that point without writing. They know these things because they write. They have written and will continue to write (except for the dead ones).So, no more quotes for me. I might read them. File them away mentally. Know that the Advice To Writers website will have them all archived and breathe out. Although, I will pay attention to one last quote – Zadie Smith says writing is best done ‘on a computer that isn’t connected to the internet’. Seems like spectacularly good advice. PS. I printed out and sent off the manuscript of the latest book last week. I sent it to a friend/colleague and I’m hoping for some sizeable feedback. It came to a wad of 190 pages and over 72,000 words. Words that I don’t actually remember writing. Words that I was a little bit impressed by (some of them anyway). It seems such a long time ago, these events that I was writing about. As though in another life. And yet, there they are in black ink on white paper. Writing is such an odd process isn’t it. Or as Cynthia Ozick says, ‘If we had to say what writing is, we would describe it essentially as an act of courage.’