Just Get on With Your Writing
What if you had the chance to have famous writer as your roomie and mentor?
In the ’60s, when writer Jenny Diski was 15, she was expelled from school and, as she puts it, ‘stuck in a loony bin where no one knew quite what to do with me.’ The person who took her in and ‘saved’ her was the famous British writer, Doris Lessing. (Click this link to read Diski’s article in The Guardian.)
1. Call it working, not writing.
Lessing showed Diski what it means to establish a purposeful writing life. For Lessing, being a writer held no glamour: ‘When I’m writing, nothing else happens here.’
Perhaps this is why Diski prefers the term working rather than writing. In a way, it makes sense. Saying you are writing sometimes gives people the wrong idea.
It’s like the term gardening. I live where there are many show gardens. The people who maintain them do hard labour—weeding, hanging off a ladder to prune trees, fertilising, mowing, replanting. But I suspect that for some non-gardeners, the term conjures up a restful image, of trailing along perfect garden paths, stopping to cut a few flowers or make minor decorative changes.
2. Shorten the mental distance between your thoughts and your writing.
Diski remembers the ‘sharp clatter of keys hitting the platen’ when Lessing was working. Lessing drafted her work on her typewriter, Diski does the same at her computer. Diski believes touch typing creates ‘the shortest possible distance’ between thoughts and writing.
3. Know thyself and just get on with writing.
Lessing wrote in order to earn a living but also to ‘fulfil her need to be what she was.’ It was Lessing’s ‘implacable understanding of what it is to be a writer’ that showed Diski what matters most in writing.
It has nothing to do with the decisions about how and what to write. All of that comes later. For Diski, a writer’s elemental focus, ‘before anything else’, is ‘knowing that you are a writer and getting on with it.’ Your writing identity grows out of process, not product. And although writers need to pay attention to both, but it’s a matter of weighting.
I admire process-oriented individuals, who get on with what they love doing. Like my friend who is a botanical illustrator. Her process activities include attending workshops, experimenting with and improving her technique, collaborating with others, setting goals. She also pursues ‘product’, entering work in exhibitions. But she does not let the judges’ decisions define her as an artist. After all, such decisions sit in the laps of the fates.
Putting undue weighting on product can skew writers’ sense of achievement, to the point that they measure that their growth, participation, and success solely in terms of external approval and recognition.
© Marsha Durham, Writing Companion blog on WordPress, 2014.