Thursday, 16 July 2009

Advice for writers

Anthony links to some great advice for writers from the philosopher Graham Harman. (I’ve read parts of his book Tool-Being, and he’s an excellent writer with a brisk, arresting style.) Harman is live blogging his current book-project, with daily posts describing the writing process. At the moment, he is drafting one chapter each day – a Herculean schedule!

I like the way Harman acknowledges the importance of planning while accepting that the actual results of writing will often turn out to be completely different from what was planned. As a young chap, I was an avid short story writer. I remember feeling utterly debilitated when I attended a writing class one day, and was offered the well-meaning advice that every story should follow a clear plan. (I took the advice to heart, and stopped writing stories.) Actually, many fiction writers begin with something as simple as a single sentence or the name of a character: and then the writing process supplies the rest. Some writers work best by developing a plan and then executing it; but for some of us, writing has a mind of its own.

I also especially like the way Harman organises his whole writing schedule around the conditions necessary for good morale. This is important, since loss of morale is probably the biggest obstacle for most of us who try to write.

I’ve often been struck by the fact that a period of intensive writing has exactly the same symptoms as chronic depression – or rather, if someone described the symptoms of depression, you would think they were simply talking about writing. “I have sudden inexplicable mood swings. I am anxious and dejected. I am awake late at night, and can’t get out of bed in the morning. I’ve lost interest in normal activities. I forget to shower and groom myself. I no longer eat meals at regular hours. Late in the afternoon, I am surprised to discover that I’m still wearing my pyjamas. I am drinking too much alcohol. I don’t return phone calls from friends. I feel like I can’t go on.”

For all these reasons, it’s always good to get some sane and practical advice from experienced writers. So I’ll be following Harman with interest as he continues to live blog the writing of his book.

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