I want to share a few favorite quotes and concepts concerning writing – no doubt, some of these will be familiar to you. Surely someone at some point bought you a poster with a likely misattributed declaration that “[w]riting is easy, you just open a vein and bleed,” or maybe a coffee mug that praises writers as machines that turn caffeine into ideas. I’m not here to judge your taste – it’s your office.
The quote I would begin with is uttered by Billy Crystal in the movie Throw Momma from the Train:
“A writer writes. Always.”
Which at its core is sound advice for any would-be wordsmith, much like the plastic label I used to have affixed to my computer monitor that admonished “why aren’t you writing?” or the tacit reminder embedded in my old college email password: PUBL15H1234.
But this sort of feverish, frantic, and desperate encouragement only works in the short-term, and for those among you saying “I’ve been saying that sort of thing to myself for years,” I would ask: for how many? One? Two? At some point in your writing life, you simply must stop typing and come around to what is perhaps the most apt description of the writing process yet coined:
“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in
front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame
and watch the sputter of blue that they made.”
Which, superficially, doesn’t sound like a quote about writing at all. This sentence from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is shortly followed by one concerning the writing of true (nay, truest) sentences, but here I digress from the text for the sake of my own sophistic inclination and because what a writer ought to understand is that the squeezing of peels and the burning of orange rinds is, in fact, writing. It is as much a part of writing as putting ink to paper, mapping out plots, and drinking.
There are two texts I would encourage any creative writer to pick up – texts which may be outside the required reading list of most creative writing classes. The first is Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole which deals with unconventional multi-modal written performances (drawings, dance, ballet slippers) in a composition classroom. The second is Sondra Perl’s Felt Sense which consists of about 50 writing exercises designed to underscore the importance of writing as an embodied process.
These two works, taken together, illustrate what I think is most important about that quote from Billy Crystal (or Stu Silver, if we’re crediting authors as perhaps we should): “a writer writes, always” not because she devotes an obscene amount of time to staring at a blank page or searching through a thesaurus.
A writer writes, always, because when we understand writing as an embodied practice, that’s all a writer EVER does!