I’m working on a tricky historical nonfiction project, and my editor suggested I read Stephen Pyne’s book Voice & Vision. Which I have just done. Terrific book!! Well, if you are into that sort of thing. But a lot of his advice would work for fiction writers as well.
He’s not a writing teacher, he’s an environmental scientist who’s won a MacArthur fellowship and writes about wildfires among other things. He doesn’t sugar coat anything.
After providing lots of examples and thoughts about the craft and the art of writing, his last chapter is full of this sort of thing:
Writing is about choices,
and among the first of those choices is
to assure yourself time to work.
Otherwise you are writing a diary or a blog.
There you go. If you spend all your time on the small stuff, the big stuff never happens.
He says that writing is like politics: it’s all about the art of the possible. Writers have to live with the “time, funds, sources, ideas and talent” that they have available to them. And it’s different for each of us. If you know what you have available, then you can tailor your writing project to those resources.
Like most books on writing, he makes the point that “If you don’t actually write, you don’t get anything written.” The old butt-to-the-chair advice.
One bit that I liked a lot was the observation that “ideas come from writing as much as writing comes from ideas.” For his nonfiction-writing audience, he adds “Writing is a means of understanding that ought to accompany research, not appear magically at its end. With practice, you will trust your ability to make the text happen. If you write, the words will come.”
Pyne addresses the question: “When to push on and when to pull back?” by which he means, how do you know when you’ve done your absolute best. Because it’s disastrous to stop before that. Again, he says, it’s a matter of choosing—“It’s about constantly making calls regarding what is good enough. Assessing the unstable gap between what you desire and what you can do is the hardest call of all.”
Wow, no wonder writing a good book is hard…all those choices, all that risk, juggling all those slippery inputs, the dangers of stopping too soon or never really getting going at all.
OK, back to the real work.