Whether or not you fully accept Jakins’ rationale it explains why we want to be published writers. A successful writer has something better than money or fame. He or she has an audience who listens to what the writer has to say. Imagine how encouraging that must be. Thousands of people paying to read what you write, and liking you for it.
Believe it or not, you have this…already. Oh, its not thousands of readers. It’s one reader, more important than any of these. In addition to having a writer in you, there’s a reader in you. Powerful because this is the first reader of what you write. For most people it isn’t a matter of whether they can be good writers. I think you see how the six principles we have been working with are well within anyone’s grasp. It’s a question of how good a reader you are of your own work. And how are you a good reader of your own work? The same way you’re a good listener to others.
1. Be attentive–for a writer this means listening with appreciation to whatever comes and devoting time and energy to your talent, much as you have done by working through this book.
2. Show genuine interest–this is finding the real subject, something we may be less sure of, but care about, a lot.
3. Ask questions–flesh out the details, not because it’s a rule in a writing book, but because you want to create the world of your piece with exactness.
4. Allow time–How much should you write every day? If you value your relationship with a spouse you don’t relegate the quality time you spend together to 11PM, Thursday night. Don’t do that with writing. You’re a writer, give it priority. There will always be dishes to do, grass to be mowed, shopping to be done whether or not you get your writing done, first.
5. Don’t interrupt–And, once the creative flow begins go with it. Let it carry you away…deep into the night, deep into other worlds, deep into yourself. You’ll be the better for it. A better husband or wife, a better employer or employee, a better mother or father, a better writer and a better human being.
6. Be non-judgmental–We have talked about the writer/editor relationship. Here it is in a nutshell. There’s a time for judgment, but it’s not when you’re writing. There’s a voice in each of us. Poet Donald Hall says it speaks to most of us only in dream, and only in unremembered dream. It doesn’t write poetry or even passable grammar, but it rushes forth the words of excited recognition, which supplies what we call inspiration. He claims there are two characteristics of this voice: it’s always original and we feel passive to it. We’re surprised by it, and we may very well, having uttered its words, not know what we mean. Hall writes:
There is the deliberate farming of daydream. There is a way in which you can daydream quite loosely, but also observe yourself. You watch the strange associations, the movements. These associations are frequently trying to tell us something. The association is always there for some reason. Listen. When you hum a tune, remember the words that go with the tune and you will usually hear some part of your mind commenting on another part of your mind, or on some recent action.
There is something I want to call “peripheral vision,” and I don’t mean anything optical. If you talk about a dream with an analyst, and there is an old battered table in the dream that you casually mention, he may well say, “What about this table? What did it look like?” Often these little details are so important. When I am listening to something passively speaking out of me, I don’t attempt to choose what is most important, I try to listen to all of it. I never know what is going to be the most important message until I have lived with it for a while. Very frequently, the real subject matter is something only glimpsed, as it were, out of the corner of the eye. Often the association which at first glance appears crazy and irrelevant, ultimately leads to the understanding, and tells what we did not know before. I don’t know how to stimulate “peripheral vision.” One can train the mind to observe the periphery rather than to ignore it. Remember: if you are thinking about something, and you have one really crazy, totally irrelevant, nutty, useless, unimaginable silly association, listen hard; it’s the whole point, almost without a doubt.
Writing clears the passageway to the insides of ourselves, allows this voice to speak through us and, as Hall says, is the ultimate goal to which men and women must address themselves. It is what to live for. It is what to live by.
7. Go from easier to harder subjects–It really doesn’t matter where you begin, the subject will find an outlet. So start with what is most immediate, most fun, or for no reason at all just catches your fancy.
8. Role play–Acknowledge that writing is an artificial mechanism but using characters to portray what we feel gives us the license to confront and exploit things we cannot address directly in real life.
Remember the words of Tom in The Glass Menagerie: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth that has the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
9. Empathize–Audience involvement keeps us honest. When we write we empathize with the people we portray, and give our audience the opportunity to do the same. By involving an audience we see things, including ourselves, through their perspective, and they in turn discover themselves through us. I don’t think there could be a more human process.
10. Be patient–As we grow older we can learn to listen better to the writer in us. What happens when you’re talking and someone doesn’t listen? Eventually you stop talking. The same happens with our writing. If the reader-in-you is overly critical, doesn’t give you time or attention, particularly when you’re trying to find a ways of expressing how you feel…, then the writing will stop. Keep the channels open. Stay ready. The voice will come when it chooses to come. Be ready for it and listen to it–that is what it means to be a successful writer.
Share your successes. Ironically we are, both the child lost in the shopping mart and the stranger who helps that child. Let your emotions find expression. This is what you need, this is what others are looking for in your work. They want someone to unclog their information, unblock their feelings. Do it for yourself, do it for them. Then both of you can move on, renewed, leaving the fear, pain, confusion, and distress behind. No one can give or receive more.
This marks the last post in this series, but please continue to check in. Next we will run an exciting analysis of the writing process called “The Writer’s Cave.”