When I was twenty-five I sat down to write my first novel. I had already written and submitted many short stories, had published some poetry, had written and produced my own play, and I had been to Hollywood where I had written a screenplay that garnered the attention of a B Movie film director. And yet, when I sat down to write that novel, when I said to myself, “Experimentation is over. I must now succeed at this and make money at this,” my relationship to my writing changed. Everything about it became immediately harder. I felt as if I had forgotten how to tell a story, something I had been doing effortlessly my entire life. My writer’s voice, which I had been working deliberately to loosen since I was thirteen, constricted. Even my sentence-to-sentence craft devolved. I wrote everyday with determination and dedication, but very little joy.
The problem, I thought, were all those words on the page. If I could find the right words and put them in the right order then I would have the success I absolutely required. Yet this idea of finding the right words and putting them in the right order felt increasingly like trying to hit a moving target: what seemed like the right words one day did not the next. Writing had become a descent into a hall of mirrors, which instead of leaving I was merely building and building and building.
I suppose this is why I am so skittish when it comes to talk of craft. Though my work did not always reflect it, when I sat down to write my first novel I had all the technical ability a writer would need to tell a story he wanted to tell. All that time spent staring at words would have been far better spent waiting for a story I wanted to tell to arrive.
In this way I have learned that a writer needs patience more than intelligence, wit, or craft. A writer must have the patience to do nothing, to quiet himself and release the noise of the day so he might hear what is already speaking within him. Tricky that, since this is a voice no one else can hear – unless, of course, we choose to speak it.
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