The internet is busy with writers, their opinions on writing, and books, and movies, and girls, and habits, and politics, and some of it is interesting, and some of it is helpful, but it also sets my mind whirling and buzzing at an uncomfortable pitch. The world is chock full of clever multitaskers. I struggle to get my teeth brushed. Other peoples’ opinions make me nervous.
And now, almost everything I read online has the power to make me nervous: how the publishing industry is imploding, or how you need to choose your genre as a writer, or how writing itself is obsolete because of Instagram. I feel like one of those cart horses, hobbled by peripheral vision. I need hoods over my eyes to keep me from startling, to help me plod forward, following the lines in the road.
The lines in the road: be kind to yourself. Keep the goals small and simple. Forgive yourself for not being as slickly perfect as you had hoped.
I read Dani Shapiro yesterday. Still Writing. It was incredibly helpful. The deceptively difficult task of staying on track*. The holy grail of practice. The sense of fraudulence.
She said trust yourself as a writer, and, helpfully, you will probably never fully trust yourself as a writer.
Find a few good friends to read your work, and use them.
The internet is crack.
You will resist the practice. That is part of the practice. The secret of your story is hidden in the resistance. Try not to walk away. Because if you walk away, and you come back, you will still be lost. Maybe more lost, depending on how long you walked away for, and how you walked. (Walking, for example, is better than walking to the Internet, or lunch with friends, or a house cleaning project.)
The internet is crack.
And she said something that sounded like “practice is everything” (my new favorite saying): you think the goal is finishing this novel. You think it’s getting published. You think it’s getting good reviews, and watching it rise up on the best-seller list. But those are just the flotsam and jetsam side-effects of the actual and only goal: practice. After you finish, you have to begin again. And again. And again.
The Internet is crack.
And the fact that she said those things, and I already know those things, made me think, in a different way than I have before, oh. I must be a writer. And then she said the thing that made me love her less: real writers don’t make outlines. Oh no, I thought. I make outlines.
Well, we all fall victim to it. The ironic habit of saying, there is no right way to do this, let me show you the right way. She should have said trust yourself and stopped there.
(*You think that the number one requirement for being a good writer is skill, but actually, the first and possibly only requirement is stamina. She called it endurance. Are you still here, doing it, after all the failures that will inevitably pile up around you?)
Last night D. spent an inexplicable amount of energy trying to convince me that the Internet is not a destructive habit, but my way of feeding my creative self. I said, no, it’s not. She argued: lots of writers and artists need to do other things– garden, clean their kitchens– isn’t that where you get your story ideas? I said: no, it isn’t. She said: how do you know it isn’t? I think about my long days, seven in the morning until one or two the following morning, the hours spent avoiding my work, my family, locked in the grip of a problem that won’t be solved, the hours I have added up, trying to imagine how much time I have lost, trying to figure out why I haven’t produced any stories. I say: hundreds of hours. She says, I’m just playing Devil’s advocate. I say, I don’t need a Devil. I need to write.