The Secret of Everything is Just That It’s Possible
I’ve been writing fiction for a long time. Most of my life. I’ve studied creative writing as an undergraduate and I have a Master of Fine Arts in writing, too. I’ve had teachers, mentors, editors, agents. In the last few decades, I’ve been given a lot of advice.
But I sat down today to try to think about the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever recieved. And this is a tough one. How do I narrow it down?
In my junior year in high school, my English teacher wrote a little note in the margins of a paper I turned in to her that said something like, “You’re a good writer. You should keep up with it.” I wish I’d had the presence of mind to save that. I can’t even remember her exact words, but the sentiment stuck. I kept up with it.
When I was in my mid-20s, I moved to the Armpit of America to be the newspaper reporter and I had an editor. Since I was the only writer, I got a lot of one-on-one attention from him. He taught me, once and for all, the difference between its and it’s. (My pinky finger still wants to put that stupid apostrophe in for a possessive when I’m on a roll, but at least I know it’s wrong now.)
He also taught me that writer’s block is not a thing. A deadline is a deadline and a sluggish muse is no excuse.
Stephen King taught me this: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
Ray Bradbury taught me this: “Just write everyday of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.”
Octavia Butler taught me that “habit is persistence in practice.”
Chuck Palahniuk taught me about thought verbs and took my writing to another level. (For real, go read that post. It will change your life.)
In their book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King taught me how to stop using a to-be verb followed by an -ing verb. At least mostly. (She wrote is stronger than she was writing . . . excellent advice.)
But I think maybe the best advice I ever got about writing came from Tomie dePaola.
He came to Kettering Elementary School in 1982 for an author visit. I was an 11-year-old sixth grader sitting in the auditorium. He must have done a hundred of those visits and I was just one little girl in a sea of thousands over the decades.
But it really felt like he was speaking directly to me.
Just by standing on that stage, even more than 35 years ago looking like a regular grandpa, he advised me that normal people write books. Books were my safe place. They were honest magic to me, and until that moment it had not really occurred to me that there were real people who wrote those stories.
I had never made the connection between books and the people who wrote them. Not really.
And then he said that he wrote everyday on a yellow legal pad with a black sharpie marker.
That was the day that I stopped telling people that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. And it was the day that I dug a yellow legal pad and a Sharpie marker out of my dad’s desk.
The best advice I’ve ever had was just that it’s possible.
Envy Writer is a Nevada girl in Pennsylvania. She used to be poor. She’s not anymore. She wants to make sure she never is again. Let’s do this together.