How Writing Works (Or: Practicing and Paying Attention)

On this lovely April day, I’m pleased to say I’ve committed the first several thousand words of the third book of The Voyages of the Legend to paper! After several months of collecting images, building a writing playlist, and preparing my outline, I’ve at last begun to write words down.

And it’s been a bumpy couple of weeks. Finishing The Illuminator’s Test last December was like cresting a steep mountain trail, full of exhaustion and accomplishment. Starting the third book was like finding myself back at the bottom again. It’s intimidating to try to compete with your past work. I’d gotten rusty. And sequels are hard: it’s a challenge to work with the same world and characters, but pit them against new challenges and even higher stakes.

My first attempt at an opening paragraph was so bad I was discouraged for two days.  The second attempt was better, but still extremely lackluster. Now, on my third go-around, I’m finally striking a pace and tone that I enjoy. And already the characters are beginning to spring surprises on me.

Getting back into the rhythms of writing has me thinking about what writing is made of, what it is. Pick up almost any how-to book on writing, and you’d think writing is a checklist that just takes practice and willpower. But I also think there’s something more. Writing is both a craft and an art.

The internet is saturated with books, webinars, articles, etc. on the craft of writing a book: the nuts and bolts of what goes into a story. Some of them are quite good. I’ve been to a number of classes, conferences, and critique groups that have helped push my writing to a higher level. It’s important to learn the nuts and bolts of wrangling good sentences out of the English language (or at least asking her respectfully for them). And it’s very helpful to study the works of other writers and learn by imitation. I work intensively with my students as they learn the craft of writing: paragraphs, similes, research, punctuation, character profiles. This part is work, and it can and must be learned by instruction and labor-intensive practice. With enough practice, it is possible to achieve a level of excellence in the craft of writing.

But writing is also an art, like painting, like music. And art is a gift. To write well is not only to work and create; it is also to receive. For me, starting to write again is learning again to be open to that gift: taking time to slow down, to be still, to listen, to be in the dance with God. For writing to be anything more than an underpaid day job, a meaningless clacking of fingers on keys, it must be sourced from something greater. That means that being a healthy person is part of good writing. That means that taking time to absorb and appreciate beauty is part of good writing. None of the small moments of life are wasted if seen with eyes of attention. It’s an attitude of cultivating readiness to meet inspiration. In short, living is writing, and writing is living.

I’ve created a new writing space in my office that, I think, reflects this pairing of practicing and paying attention. It’s businesslike enough for all-day scribbling sprints, yet it’s also right next to a window that looks out on the reflective world.

New writing desk 4-15

…And now I’m going back to write there.

7 thoughts on “How Writing Works (Or: Practicing and Paying Attention)

  1. I quite like the lantern you’ve decorated with 😀

    And thanks for the reminder that quite time is essential for creativity. It is funny how busy times can creep up on you. Before you know it, all creative inspiration is gone and you can’t remember how that happened. I’ve been working this week on being still instead.

    Like

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