word craft


There is no one way to write

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. 

10 thoughts on “There is no one way to write”

  1. Such an hon­est share! Every writer, young or old, could find some inspi­ra­tion and hope in these words. Thanks, Avi!

    • The root mean­ing of inspi­ra­tion it not some god-like inter­ven­tion, but to breath life into words. That’s all you need to know.

  2. Avi! I have often won­dered how you do it. Okay, so dig this mouse, I just fin­ished Emi­ly Upham’s Revenge and I have no words. You total­ly got me again. I can’t tell you how much I need­ed a good laugh. You are a treasure!

    BTW, I’m only here because I want you to know how much you’ve meant to me and my daugh­ter. Oh, and I love the sto­ries behind sto­ries. We’ve had a tough cou­ple of years and your books have been a real bright spot and a source of bond­ing. I love you and stay strong with the new book <3

  3. Thanks Avi, for invit­ing oth­er writ­ers to your space. It was great to get ideas from your writer friends and col­leagues. I always need/want more encour­age­ment and advice from masters!


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