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Fiction is Truer than Truth

September 16, 2008

In the last few weeks I’ve spent a good bit of time breaking down the writing process into into steps: Inspiration, Brainstorming, Rough Draft, Revision, etc. And I’d intended to begin a series of posts about getting back to the fundamentals. But during my 15-minute lunch break today, I was reading my latest fiction choice and I came across some excellent writing advice.

Now normally, fiction is a great place for examples, but not as helpful when it comes to advice. In the book in question, The Ghost by Robert Harris, the narrator is a ghostwriter, and he’s at the point where he needs to get down to writing the book he’s been hired to ghost.

…There wasn’t a lot of room to work, but that didn’t bother me. Of all human activities, writing is the one for which it is easiest to find excuses not to begin—the desk’s too big, the desk’s too small, there’s too much noise, there’s too much quiet, it’s too hot, too cold, too early, too late. I had learned over the years to ignore them all and simply to start. I plugged in my laptop, switched on the lamp, and contemplated the blank screen and its pulsing cursor.

If that were the entire passage, it might already be enough of a cold splash of water to get one writing. But aside from telling us the basics of getting through writer’s block, the narrator continues to give a wonderful passage to encourage us to put our egos away for a while.

A book unwritten is a delightful universe of infinite possibilities. Set down one word, however, and immediately it becomes earthbound. Set down one sentence and it’s halfway to being just like every other bloody book that’s ever been written. But the best must never be allowed to drive out the good. In the absence of genius there is always craftsmanship. One can at least try to write something that will arrest the readers’ attention, that will encourage them, after reading the first paragraph, to take a look at the second, and then the third…

I think that’s a brilliant summation. How often do we think ourselves into writer’s block, by imagining how lyrical, profound or brilliant we can write that we’re immediately disappointed with every sentence we create?

“In the absence of genius there is always craftsmanship…”

I couldn’t agree more.

  1. September 16, 2008 1:44 am

    Wow, as I read this via Google Reader, I’ve only noticed the new design now. Nice work guys. It looks sweet. Actually kind of like mine…

    That first quote is nice, and something I should apply to myself as I work ever so slowly through the brainstorming stage.

    The second is interesting, though not sure I understand all of it. It’s certainly nice to have a new idea and brag about it, and there’s a touch of pressure after that. You need to write and it seems like it needs to be as good as you’ve bragged about. So you procrastinate instead of writing because you can’t live up expectations.

    That’s my interpretation anyway.

  2. September 16, 2008 10:14 am

    “Of all human activities, writing is the one for which it is easiest to find excuses not to begin” – isn’t that the truth?!!!

  3. September 17, 2008 2:33 pm

    I loved the quotes…both of them. I have read about writers that spent month, on one paragraph. How long did it take for the author to write Catch 22…7 years if I remember correctly. He must have edited that little book to death!

    I have never talked to a great writer but it seems to me that you can only write when you let go and just do it. A blank page only needs a few words to become a story. I love that.


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