“Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.” - Bernard Malamud, interviewed for The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz
What’s your way? I ask myself this question all the time. I don’t think it’s static. I once thought I had no way, that I couldn’t write anything except legal briefs, memoranda, personnel policy manuals and client letters. But I was wrong.
In 1987, I discovered Natalie Goldberg’s writing practice. Setting a timer, moving my pen across the page, not stopping, not crossing out, not thinking, that became my way. I haunted coffeehouses with a spiral notebook and a purple rollerball pen, spewing ink across pages, across years, across several states.
Now I’m learning another way. Editing. It still scares me. In a chapter in Writing Down the Bones entitled, “The Samari,” Natalie wrote, “William Carlos Williams said to Allen Ginsberg, ‘If only one line in the poem has energy, then cut the rest out and leave only that one line.’” Learning to edit is a skill handed down from one writer to another or from an editor to a writer. I’m learning it the same way - by direct transmission. My MFA advisor reads my writing and sends it back to me covered in blue ink. I bristled against this for a decade. Now I am ever thankful for the direction. I want to know what she has to teach.
So what’s your way? Don’t worry if today your way is to simply write lists of writing ideas in the back of your notebook. Keep making those lists. Eventually you will become brave enough to take one of the topics and go. And someday, you’ll be ready for something else.