word craft


Talking and Writing

Avi BooksEvery writer has his/her way of work­ing. There are often quirks and even super­sti­tions involved. When do you start your dai­ly work? When do you quit? If it’s a com­put­er you are using, what font do you choose?  What about the col­or back­ground? Do you try to write two pages a day or twen­ty-five?  When you are edit­ing on paper, what pen do you use—or is it a pencil? 

While these ele­ments can tell you much about the writer’s per­son­al­i­ty and char­ac­ter, they won’t tell you much about writing. 

That said, I have some­thing of a rule which I fol­low when I am work­ing on a book: I don’t talk about the sto­ry I’m composing. 

I love sto­ries, love mak­ing cre­at­ing them, and even telling them. On fam­i­ly occa­sions I might say, “There’s a curi­ous his­to­ry about this recipe.”  Or “You’ve all heard about San Francisco’s famous cable cars. Let me tell you about New York City’s cable cars.”  Or “Any­one here know why the Los Ange­les Dodgers are called the Dodgers?” 

Nobody actu­al­ly rolls their eyes, but there is a patient, polite pause as folks listen. 

But as for telling the sto­ry, I am try­ing to write, that’s anoth­er mat­ter.  I won’t tell it. The only time I will talk is with my editor. 

Over the years I’ve lis­tened to many a would-be writer say, “I’ve got this great sto­ry I intend to write.” Then they tell it to me. It may indeed be a good sto­ry, but I’m think­ing it won’t be writ­ten

That’s because I believe there is a cer­tain ener­gy required to tell a sto­ry, in shar­ing a sto­ry. If I tell it I will dis­si­pate the ener­gy to write it. 

There is some­thing more: Behind every sto­ry, there are many ideas, direc­tions, plot­lines pos­si­ble. My job as a writer is to find the best one that works. I don’t want to teach any­thing. I want to reveal a human story. 

If I tell some­one my sto­ry, I find that I’m com­mit­ting myself to a cer­tain line, idea, direc­tion. I’m putting my ideas in a box. If I don’t tell it, then I am free to write in what­ev­er direc­tion feels right. Over the years I’ve come to respect that feel­ing more than any­thing else. 

When I work, often—usually in ear­ly drafts—I sense my writ­ing is not work­ing. I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly even know why. My job is to dis­cov­er why. Maybe it’s how I’m mak­ing my char­ac­ters act, or speak, or react. It takes end­less re-writ­ing to dis­cov­er what’s real. 

“How did the writ­ing go today?” my wife may ask.

“Okay,” I reply, which actu­al­ly means, “I don’t know.”

Or, as I said last night (after a cou­ple of months’ work) “It felt good today.” 

She smiles with understanding. 

But I don’t explain why. 

My rule: When you have to explain your writ­ing, you have not writ­ten well. 

2 thoughts on “Talking and Writing”

  1. Love your words, Avi. I lis­tened to SOR Losers with my 13YO daugh­ter last week­end and we laughed so hard at Mr Lester’s speeches. 

    Love you so much dude!

  2. J. K. Rowl­ing was asked about her secre­tive­ness while draft­ing. Like you, she says talk­ing about it inter­feres with her process.
    I won’t say a thing to any­one until I’ve fin­ished the sec­ond draft.


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