On my website, these past three months of summer a great variety of my friends and colleagues—successful writers all—have been offering ideas, tips, and suggestions about writing. They have presented ways to think about writing, prepare for writing, and the process of writing itself. What stands out to me is how varied the notions have been. I suspect that ALL of the ideas are valid IF they work for you. That tells me there is no one way to write.
You have to find your own way.
After my second year of high school (it was a very small school) the English teacher called my parents and told them “Avi is the worst student I have ever had.” A tutor was required, found, and followed.
And after having just taken my college Freshman English survey class, I composed a poem in rhymed couplets about some classical Greek theme. (I think it was because I had been introduced to and admired the English poet Alexander Pope-it was he who wrote: “To Err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.”) I don’t even know which mythic tale I was retelling. In any case, I presented this multi-page poem to my mother as a Christmas present.
She said absolutely nothing about it.
A good number of years later (after I had published a few books) I got up the courage to ask her—“Why did you never comment on that poem?” She said, “Because I thought you copied the good parts from someone and the bad parts, which thought you wrote, were so awful I didn’t want to say anything.”
That in turn reminds me of the advice I once received from an adult mentor after he read a pile of my college-age writings. “Lee,” says I, ”what do you think of my writing?” “Avi,” he replied, “it takes a heap of manure to make a flower grow.”
And when I was a senior at University I entered a student one-act playwriting contest. The judge, while rejecting my efforts, said, “While not a good play, the writer is clearly just learning the English language and is to be commended on making good progress.”
Over the years, my writing did get better.
That “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” appears to be a proverb that appears to go back to the 14th century. Which is to say—if talking about writing—if you write something well then you did the right thing. However, what you did this time may be different than what you did another time. My point is, how you write, as much as what you write, changes over time.
I once asked my late good friend Natalie Babbitt why she didn’t write more. I’m not quoting exactly but the essence of her answer was: “Everyone says Tuck Everlasting, is such a great book. How could I ever writing anything again as good?”
I thought it was the saddest remark a writer can make.
I always strive to make the next book better than the last. Do I succeed? Readers decide, not me. But I never stop trying.
Since I’m struggling with a new book these days, perhaps I should take Will Alexander’s advice (July 19, 2022) and throw myself a solo dance party before I sit down to write today.
I confess I haven’t tried that. Thanks, Will, and everybody else.