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?)

I’m reading Wintergirls. Yesterday this led me to Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog, which led the blog of Markus Zusak (Book Thief) and then Tim Tharp (Spectacular Now). The world, I discover, is full of writers, and some of them are mature and helpful, and some of them are full of themselves, and sometimes the mature ones write books I don’t like, and sometimes the assholes write books I adore. I think it might be bad for me to read all this. Every. Single. One. Says that you have to write daily. Every. Single. One. Anderson had a great piece of advice– if you get stuck and you can’t figure out what to do next, brainstorm ten terrible things that might happen to your character, and ten great things that might happen to your character. From that pile of possibility, the next step will surely emerge. Zusak said that you can only become a writer by writing. It’s in the process of writing that you discover the writer that you are. You have to slog through the daily dross of it, and then you meet yourself.

Yesterday I was thinking about Stephen King, who had a car accident that crushed all the bones in his body, and when he was convalescing got his wife to prop him up in a tiny alcove by his hospital bed so that he could start writing again, even though he was in excruciating pain. I wondered. Was it something that he loved that much?

Telling stories is hard for me, hard enough that I avoid it when I can, doing other things instead, like cleaning the kitchen, or cooking, or breaking my computer so I can fix it. Which is why it seemed fitting, not even ironic, when my computer helpfully broke itself so that I wouldn’t have to start this morning.

You finish, Maeve Binchy says, because it would be too humiliating not to. So that when people say, “did you ever finish that novel?” you can say, “of course I finished.”