In his book ‘The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction’ Barnaby Conrad starts his chapter on ‘How Do You Become A Writer’ by writing:
“A suspect statistic from an unreliable source declares that only one American out of 50,000 reads a book a year, but that two Americans out of 50,000 are writing books.”
So how do you become a writer?
By going to school? By reading the works of the great writers? By attending writers’ workshops? By taking creative writing courses?
Dorothea Brande in her book ‘Becoming A Writer’ writes:
“Almost all creative writing courses are for most people most of the time failures. What the stalled or not-yet-started writer needs is some magic for getting in touch with himself.”
“The essential support and encouragement comes from within, arising out of the mad notion that your society needs to know what only you can tell it.” John Updike
Legend has it that some famous writer, I forgot who, was asked to speak to a creative writing class. He started by saying: “So you all want to write. Then what in hell are you doing here? Go home and write.”
Similarly, rumor has it that after Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a note he had written to his apprentice: “Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.”
Perhaps all these books on writing and creative writing courses tell you is how to become aware of your surroundings, how to be observant. As a writer, listen to how people talk and behave; watch how they move, how they cry, how they react. Look around you, be the camera’s eye, and capture the specific moments.
I have taken my share of creative writing courses and attended workshops and read as many books on the art and craft of writing as possible. However, while reading Dorothea Brande’s ‘Becoming a Writer’ I came across the following exercise that struck me as unique. It is so different from all the suggestions I have heard so far from professionals in the field, that I wanted to share it with you.
“You are near a door. Get up and go through that door. From the moment you stand on the threshold turn yourself into your own object of attention. What do you look like? How do you walk? What, if you knew nothing about yourself, could be gathered of you, your character, your background, your purpose just there at just that minute? If there are people in the room whom you must greet, how do you greet them? How do your attitudes to them vary? Do you give any overt sign that you are fonder of one, or more aware of one, than the rest?”
Since no two human beings are the same, originality comes from within. So you as a writer must turn to yourself to find most of your material. If you can say truthfully and precisely what you think of any situation or character, as it can only appear to you, then you can create a piece of writing that is original.
Who then will teach you to write?
“The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless; the page which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity if its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write.” Annie Dillard