Sunday, February 17, 2008

Advice from a master

Over at Oxyjen, the very lovely Goblin asked us to post any lines from books that had inspired us. I interpreted this a little loosely, and offered my all-time favourite writing advice: 'if you don't know what to write, just write it'.

This was a piece of advice I was given when I first started out working in Public Relations. Oh, how I hated PR. Really, really hated it. The only part of the job I enjoyed was the writing part - news releases, letters, brochures - so it did get me started in that it showed me what I should really be doing (I moved on to become a copywriter). So while putting in the hours trying to presuade journalists to write articles about boring widgets and discussing lack of articles on said widgets with irate clients, while not mentioning the word boring and pretending it was all my fault nobody would write a story on boring widgets but my boss hadn't told them that their widgets were boring and nobody would write a story about them, because he wanted their money....where was I?

Back to the start. I worked with a very experienced PR consultant, who was fed up with writing. She was good at it, but she was fed up with it. So she sent it all over to my desk. I loved it. Flowery stuff here, flowery stuff there, make it all sound artsy and lovely and tremendously significant. One day she read a particularly florid piece of mine, looked over her glasses at me and said: 'you're fired'.

No she didn't. She said (you knew it all the time, didn't you?): 'if you don't know what to write, just write it.'

OK, so it's slightly enigmatic, but that's what I love about it. At the time she was telling me I was an idiot and I needed to call a spade a spade, not a gardening implement. I still have this phrase in my head at all times, but now in addition to trimming the blooms off my flowery language, I also use it as an incentive.

If you're stuck on something, just write it down. To me that can mean either 'skip this bit it's too hard, but e.g. write down a placeholder'get Martha to the lorry depot', and then move smoothly on with the bit that inspires you - worry about getting her to the depot later when you're feeling inspired about that. Or it can simply mean, whack whatever you can down on paper before the baby wakes up.

I can also interpret it to mean, stop procrastinating.

Or, don't worry about not having an idea about where this story is going, just write something down and the idea will come.

It all adds up to one thing, though. Just get out your pen and paper and write the damn thing down.

Real life update

You're not going to believe this. Princess had a damn good try and knocking out her new best friend's teeth on Friday night. She definitely needs a new name. Fangkiller? The Dental Recruitment Officer? Suggestions welcome!


Robin S. said...


Princess is my kind of girl.

She looks so little, so slightly built and sweet, in her photo. But it's all subterfuge. She's a tiny blonde Mrs. Peel in training.

Go tiger. Kick some butt. (Aren't you glad I don't live in Australia? I'm a bad influence.)

pacatrue said...

I think it's more of a koan of some sort. It doesn't seem to mean anything and so you take it to mean whatever good advice you need at that moment.

McKoala said...

Koan. I've never heard that word, 'true. Can you fill me in?

Oh, Robin, I think you might find Princess is more of a bad influence on you rather than the other way you like your teeth?

pacatrue said...

Zen koan. Koan is two syllables. The classic "what's the sound of one hand clapping?" is a koan. It's not really a riddle. Instead, it's a tool that Zen practitioners are to use in the path towards enlightenment. I don't think the point is so much to figure out an answer, but more the effect that doing a koan has on your mind and spiritual development.

Robin S. said...

This is so funny. McK has a post, and two friends show up to do initial commenting.

One talks about kicking butt; the other is going koan.

I really think we shod all get together someday, for grins.

Sarah said...

Big party at Robin's house. Who's in?

Does Princess have an aversion to teeth or is she trying to start a collection? Or maybe she's trying to help people get money from the tooth fairy.

My favorite line from a book: Aim high. You may still miss the target but at least you won't shoot your foot off. - Lois McMaster Bujold

ChristineEldin said...

What Robin said!
Oh, she's adorable in many ways!!

I feel smarter when Paca is around.

Robin S. said...

Hey Sarah and Chris,

I swear I really do think an EE blog friends get-together would be such a scream. But he'd probably end up in therapy over it, poor thing.

And McK- back to the first part of your post- I had to make myself do what you talked about- just write and let it flow and let things happen.

Every once in a while, though, I'm still hammered down to a close by this feeling that every word I write has to be the best thing I ever did or am capable of doing.

I do use your marker method - and it works- write on ahead of a difficult passage, just leave it for a while - and leave a marker for it- so I know where it needs to go.

Example: the scene I sent in to EE's last dealie- the Valentine Day thing - I've been thinking and mulling over how I would handle that for well over a year, almost two, and nothing I'd done had come close to getting what I wanted to accomplish, accomplish. And then a few weeks ago, when I was writing something else, it just came out like it had been stewing in there all along. So yeah, I agree, just write it and let it happen.

McKoala said...

Ah, so I'm on the path to enlightenment. Good to know.

Sarah, that reminds me of a Browning poem - Andrea del Sarto - 'Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?'

Chris - adorable? Adorable? What have Thing One and Thing Two done to you to make your definition of adorable so, um, unusual?!

Absolutely, Robin. Sometimes there is no point in forcing it. Just bung something down and wait for your brain to take its time to figure things out.

Sarah said...

If we're getting together for a party, I vote for Australia.

December/Stacia said...

Little Miss Hammerfist?

blogless_troll said...

At least you don't have to worry about her being able to take care of herself.

McKoala said...

Sure, turn up at my door and I'll host!

LOL, Little Miss Hammerfist! You've got to watch the feet too, that's what did for her brother's front tooth.

Yes, BT, it's the others I'm worried about.