Begin to write by writing

The post-it note centered above my computer monitor daily reminds me, “Begin to write by writing.” It’s a phrase that struck me during a writing course years ago. Anyone can think about writing, but you have to put your fingers on the keyboard and actually write if you want to be a writer.

Glenda Mathes and Larry Woiwode in the fiction classroom at Glen West
Glenda Mathes and Larry Woiwode in the fiction classroom at Glen West

Readers of my previous post know that I recently returned from Glen West, where I participated in a fiction workshop led by Larry Woiwode. One of the first things he said in the first class was, “If you want to be a published author, you have to write every day.”

He talked about how beginning authors often think they can’t write an entire novel, so they decide to start with something easier, like a short story. But Woiwode told us the short story is the most difficult to write. He spoke about the “Aha!” moment at the end, when “you bump your head on the first sentence.” He said, “The first sentence develops an incline and the story goes down it.” And, “A lifeline runs from the opening sentence to the last sentence.”

Woiwode recommended drafting a story in one sitting so that it’s “trapped in time and space.” He even said about writing a novel, “You must draft it straight through.” He added, “There’s great integrity in a first draft” because “no one else has entered it.” He suggested getting the first draft down without showing it to anyone else. Once you’ve let other people read and comment on it, you’ve allowed their influence to invade the narrative. “Get it down once,” he said. “You have the rest of your life to get back to it.”

The narrative in fiction can be a powerful force for expressing truth and bringing healing.

“Truth-telling best happens in stories,” he said. “Many professions have found that if you can fix someone’s narrative, you can heal them. That’s what we’re doing in storytelling.”

While we worked through previously-submitted manuscripts, Woiwode used subjects in the discussion to launch into related instruction. He spoke about the importance of establishing the person and point of view. “You have to have a person in a particular setting at a specific time. Place the person,” he said. “One way to do that is through a clear point of view at the start.”

When questioned about his class description stressing place (see my “The Place of Place” post), he said that description was meant to be “provocative.” It was.

The above reflects only part of the wisdom gleaned during the workshop’s first day. The challenge now is to implement a viable plan for prioritizing fiction. How do you do it?

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