Three Things She Knows For Sure
I only know two or three things about writing. Lucky you, I’m going to spill them right now.
For one, if you want to write, you’ve got to put pen to paper and actually get some words down on the page. As obvious as that sounds, you’d be amazed at how many people talk about wanting to write, and end up never writing a word. I’m not saying you have to write every day, or write well, or write the Great American Novel. I’m only saying you have to get those words down.
The second thing I know is that until you get those words down, you won’t know what you’ve written. I realize that sounds like a trick sentence, but it’s not. You’ve got to write in order to see what you’ve written. A warning: Once you see what you’ve written, chances are excellent you’ll think it’s the most stinking piece of garbage you’ve ever read. Well, welcome to the club. Nearly everything written began this way. But the beauty is, now you have something to work with.
Third, don’t go showing your early drafts around. You don’t need comments yet. You don’t need someone telling you that the character on page two needs fleshing out, that the tone is too arch, that your ending doesn’t work. You’ve barely given birth to the thing! Hang onto it for a bit. Let it sit. Later, when you feel distant enough from your piece that you can read it with fresh eyes, you may find that the character on page two isn’t necessary any longer. Good thing you didn’t waste time and energy listening to that person who thought your character needed fleshing out! Now’s the time for you to take your piece of stinking garbage and begin to clean it up, brush away the dirt, and find the beauty that may be lurking underneath. This cleaning may take a while. May take a whole lot of drafts. But eventually, your piece—that thing you didn’t know you were writing—will be finished.
That’s about it. Sit down and commit words to paper. Let them stink. Re-write them. Don’t look for comments too early. And best of luck selling your work. In this business, you need it.
Mary Guterson is the author of the novels, We Are All Fine Here (Putnam, 2005), and Gone to the Dogs (St. Martin's, 2009). A former speech pathologist, she currently works at an independent bookstore on Bainbridge Island, WA.