Wednesday, April 22, 2015

LU MFA Foundations: The Practice of Writing--Wm. Anthony Connolly

There are as many different kinds of writers as there are books produced. While all share the vanity of self-possessed flowers, each blooms with a unique fuse.

Being a Writer | Writers wore a certain kind of clothes and lived in a certain fashionbedraggled barflies. And to my way of thinking there was a particular way to be a writer. All of this is hogwash, I now know, but I allow it once rang true and might even still be so for beginning writers today. Old habits die hard and sometimes stereotypes live much longer afterwards; after all it is work to dispel stereotype, and the happy coincidental byproduct is the creation of new habits. The first thing to help you on becoming a writer is to simply be one. This isn't to mean you need to fake anything until you make it, rather it means you should write. Type on a keyboard, write in longhand, anything. Just write. As much as possible.

Write | This is the first and the only step required to begin a writing practice. Here are some other tips which can be adopted or ignore.

Read | I would suggest that you read every thing you can get your hands on, but I know this sounds a little too zealous. It is not presumptuous however to assume you are now a reader; you read books in prose both short and long. You might even have some favorite authors. If you don't read it has to be said you are in the wrong business wanting to be a writer. Reading is completed writing, it helps in a back and forth way to become a better writer. From reading the works of others you learn from their mistakes and their success. Carve out time every day to read. Anything.

Time | Pause for a moment for some self-reflection and during this interlude ask yourself honestly what time of day are you at your best. This is not to say your best is anything other than a time when you feel the most yourself. For example, I am at my best fairly early in the morning. This doesn't mean I could hold great conversations with you or build a bookshelf; for me it means it's the time I feel is the best for writing. I can concentrate, I feel good about getting work done early and I tend to be able to sit for longer spells in the morning. I have learned over the years the exact calibration of what times exactly work for me. Too early and I'm only kidding myself. Too groggy. Too late and I begin to panic my best material has been swallowed by the day. Each of us has a specific time. Pick yours.

Space | It is equally important to my thinking, which might not be your own, to have a regular space to spend some time every day to sit down and be your best while writing. For me, it's a desk in a quiet part of the house. For you it could be in a busy coffeehouse or on the deck of a houseboat. I don't really care. But what is important here is that you decide where you want to be when you are writing. It is important in establishing your practice to have as few variables as possible.

Tools | I don't chide anyone their whims. Every writer comes to the page differently. Some write directly into their computers, others write longhand. My own choice, over many years, is to write longhand in a journal and as material accumulates I then begin to translate this material in a digital form. For some projects I add step between paper and computer by typing up material on a manual typewriter. Choose was works for you. People will give you plenty of advice here, but ultimately it's all about you and you'll figure it out for yourself. Once you do you'll need no one's advice on what to do to get your work down.

Feedback | At a point in time, again a decision that is solely yours, seek out some readers; they can even be fellow writers. Let others read your work and provide you with some feedback as to what you have produced. In draft form the idea is simply to understand how others will come to perceive what you were intending. Writing for yourself alone is not to be devalued, but for now it's best that in beginning your practice you share the fruits of your labor. This feedback helps you continue to sit down and attempt to write given either nebulous or specific criticism; more on levels of criticisms later on.

The Take Away:
1 Decide to write
2 Write as much as you can
3 Read
4 Find a time
5 Find a space
6 Choose your tools
7 Get feedback

As you can see there is a lot of room here for personal choices to be made because remember for every different kind of book out there, there's a different kind of writer who penned it.

Write and write well.
—Wm. Anthony Connolly


Lindenwood University MFA in Writing Program
On-Campus or Fully Online (No Residency Requirement)

In the LU MFA Foundations series, our faculty members 
discuss or clarify foundational elements of the craft of creative writing.
Other entries in the series are linked here.

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