THE CRAFT OF WRITING
In the many writing workshops I give each year, there is one question I am asked far more frequently than any other:
These days I do my level best to answer it, and answer it as frankly and sympathetically as possible. Which is not difficult, since the range of responses that qualify as frank and sympathetic is narrow. In fact, I can think of only one:
It wasn’t always this way. During an especially dark period some years ago, when my heart had been hardened by the traumatic breakup of my marriage, I was less considerate of other people’s feelings. At that time, when someone asked, “Mr. F----,” it was not unusual for me to reply, for example, “No?,” just to see them squirm.
That’s not something I’m proud of. On the other hand, I scored at the twelfth-grade level on an achievement test when I was only a fourth-grader, and I’d dare just about anybody to top that one. Still, if you’ve ever been the undeserving target of my callousness, and you can prove that as a direct result you are now incarcerated, email my secretary and we may be able to work something out. It won’t hurt if you kept your receipt.
But back to the craft of writing.
When not answering yes or no, I’m often heard not responding at all. In fact, there have been times—as any alumnus of my classes will tell you—when the room positively reverberated with my lack of response. For this I offer no apology: After all, as I never tire of stressing to students, “Writers write,” and sometimes I am simply too busy writing to field questions posed by people who won’t ever be famous. Sure, a few may turn out mildly interesting, but I could be dead by then.
The opportunity to watch an accomplished writer at work is, I believe, of inestimable value to one’s professional development, and I make a point of programming a block of time into each workshop for participants to sit quietly and watch me write. They find this fascinating and are generally loath to interrupt, even to go to the bathroom. Provided there is nobody among them whose blue jeans fit like spraypaint, I manage to get a good deal of writing done during these periods, sometimes even balancing my checkbook too. Needless to say, I insist that all cellphones be turned off.
In any case, it’s all Internet these days, and tattoos, and no one knows where apostrophe’s go anymore, but the core dictum remains the same: Writers write, and no degree of blue jean snugness will change that. If that sounds to you like bad advice, if I sound like someone whose advice isn’t worth taking, then take my advice and don’t enroll in one of my workshops. It’s not as if I’m twisting your arm.
You may turn your phone back on now.