20 Comments

Following on your observations: I think if you are ready to write, the various intrusions and distractions don’t stop you. Your writing interferes with your focus on those things.

If you’re not ready to write, the perfect situation won’t help.

“Ready to write” means “ready to neglect things,” and those things could be noise, or your son, or your health.

Expand full comment

There's an apocryphal saying attributed to Hemingway that's similar. Supposedly, when asked what the most difficult thing about was, he was said to have answered, "sitting down."

As simplistic and ritualistic as the notion of 'just do it' is; it is fundamentally true. Yet, what prevents writers from doing just that is the same brain generating ideas and plots, choosing words to create sentences that become paragraphs that become chapters is the same brain preventing the writer from doing it. The writing brain has to overcome its own inertia weighed down by doubt and distraction. It's an incredible act of hubris to create something essentially out of nothing then offer it up to public scrutiny.

Within the internal struggle of the self--the ego that will carry a writer's ideas forward and the protective shield against emotional pain--rituals can provide the psychological safety required to get the Thing into words. The rituals make what comes after the sitting down doable. Like a football player with lucky socks, the ritual externalizes the doubt and fear. Perform the ritual correctly and all goes well; if not, well, the brain has an excuse for not completing (or starting) the task. Much less inner turmoil for a writer to blame dirty socks and bad coffee for lack of results than their own musty, futzy brains.

My third book comes out on September 26th in the States. It took five years to actively research and write all while working full-time running a small publishing company. I could have finished it sooner had I not got trapped in a cycle of self-doubt paralysis that prevented the "sitting down." It took giving myself a serious reckoning to accept that my work will be criticized (if not ignored!) and nit-picked as much as it could be praised. It takes a hearty psyche to knowingly fling one's work into the public square to be judged!

And finally, as all writers must do in this modern age, flog, flog, flog...here's the link to Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat--An American History. https://www.amazon.com/Holy-Food-Religious-Movements-Influenced/dp/1934170941/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1D10HAT353K96&keywords=Holy+food+ward&qid=1690283793&sprefix=holy+food+ward%2Caps%2C171&sr=8-1

Expand full comment
Jul 25, 2023Liked by Henry Oliver

This is great advice for those who want to read more too.

Expand full comment
Jul 25, 2023Liked by Henry Oliver

The best piece of writing advice I ever received — and I live by it every day was from my father, an old school ad guy and now published author with multiple books.

Write like you talk. What he meant by that is if you can’t read it comfortably aloud, no one else will read it comfortably and you won’t get your point across. Use contractions, write in natural language.

If your writing is approachable and easy to read, people are much more likely to actually read it.

Expand full comment

I find it really helpful to write in a semi public space. On a train, in a coffee shop. Of course it takes me away from the washing machine/dishwasher/ironing horror, and all the other distractions of my lovely home/husband/dog, but somehow the fact of other people, strangers, around me keeps me more focused. It has just occurred to me that maybe being seen in public with a laptop open that isn't showing emails or spreadsheets, ie that I'm not 'doing business' between meetings, forces me to look busy and justify my existence!

Expand full comment

A good friend of mine who writes adventures for role playing games recently published a planetarium guide for science fiction games. When it was finally published, he showing a copy to his family. One of his nieces asked him how he was able to do that. He said has sat in a chair and started writing, and when he was finished with it he turned it in. His niece was dumbfounded by such a simple and straightforward answer.

Expand full comment

Endurance is writing when embattled, but there's also Patricia Highsmith quote "I do everything possible to avoid a sense of discipline." It's writing by the seat of your pants (while ass in chair etc) That Highsmith quote is in the article you wrote Jan '22 (link is in last para here) and it's mind-blowing how she got anything written at all. Henry, please can you fix a link mentioned here: Your long review of Patricia Highsmith's diaries - the link isn't working and I'd love to read it because the rest is so good.

P.S. I see PH gets honourable mention in Clara Törnvall's book 'The Autists'.

Expand full comment

It's certainly good advice. I have to think for quite a long time before I commit to the page, and I'm fairly easily distracted from that. Maybe if I just hit the page without too much thought...

Expand full comment

Write less. Edit more.

That is the most valuable principle of good writing, bar none.

But also,

From Henry Miller Miscellanea (notes to himself, ca. 1932):

Commandments

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."

3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

There are 11 "commandments" in all, but this gives one sufficient advice for one day.

Expand full comment

I've never understood why writing seems such an effort to people who consider themselves writers. To me it's finding the time, but if I have time it's no effort to get started. Finishing is harder, when you have to decide if you're satisfied with the results.

Then again, perhaps it's more of a problem for fiction writers.

Expand full comment