Sage advice on writing

Like most writers I love reading books on writing and have over the years read classics like Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (a must read!) and Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.   A recent discovery and now a particular favourite of mine is  A Broom of One’s Own by Nancy Peacock.

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In this book Nancy Peacock has written a wise and very honest account of just how hard it is to be successful writer.  If you’re not the lucky recipient of a large trust fund or a lottery winner chances are you’re working to pay your bills (like me ) while trying to write your masterpiece or even a couple of articles/essays/stories.   Nancy worked as a housecleaner for many years before and after the publication of two novels bringing home the fact that publication does not necessarily bring with it financial security and you won’t be able to quit that day job anytime soon to write full time (unless of course you get a call from Oprah).

The author writes honestly about how many times she’s ‘quit’ writing.  This really resonated with me as I have been ‘quitting’ writing since I was twelve.  It’s so easy to come up with reasons not to write.  One that I grapple with (and I read that Amy Tan has wrestled with the same thought) is why should I write anything really when there are many exceptional and outstanding works out there that should be read.

Nancy Peacock offers sage advice on page 91:

‘The less I compared myself and my situation to other writes and their situations, the more comfortable I was with my life.’

This advice applies to all in any situation or career.

What also made me pick up this book and buy it was the fact that the author worked as a housecleaner (she had also worked at a deli counter and as a waitress, bartender…).  I happen to enjoy cleaning my house; I find it therapeutic but I can imagine how draining and soul-crushing it must be to clean someone else’s house while your own turns into a kingdom of dust bunnies.  The fact that she felt her chosen occupation was ‘unsophisticated’ and ’embarrassing’ only made her story and experiences more ‘real’ to me.  How often do we as writers feel ‘unsophisticated’ in the company of others who hold PhDs in Literature or are affiliated to universities?  This book brings home the fact that you don’t need the ‘right connections’ or an MFA to write and to get published.   At the end of the book the author offers her ‘free advice rebuttal’ here is a sample:

1.  You must spend some time living abroad.

It’s good to get out of your comfort zone, but the truth is it’s important to increase your powers of observation, wherever you are.

Keep pen and paper with you at all times. Get into the habit of making lists of things that you see and hear. 

2.  You must trade in your Mac and write on a PC.

Use the tools you love.  

3.  You simply must read Proust.

You can’t read everything, so read what resonates with you.  Don’t be intimidated by other people’s reading lists and tastes.  read what you like, and thereby discover what you would like to write. 

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Which book on writing would you recommend?

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3 thoughts on “Sage advice on writing

    • I must add this Plot and Structure to my list. Another book that I have to get (it comes up all over the blogosphere as a great book on writing) is Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. Do you have that one?

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