By Jennifer Edelson
March, 2005, 11:32
When I decided to write for IN, I hoped to somehow articulate a few of those mostly intangible feelings we experience when weíve gone really deep. Maybe some obscure philosophical idea that in the grand world of writing, means something more to you than ďHow Moving My Pen Just Right Motivates Me.Ē
I wanted to strike a chord. To write something affective, so the process wonít feel as inaccessible as it did to me when I first started. Something that maybe makes you feel as much as think. I mean, writing is a lonely business, and itís good to have company.
For that last few months, Iíve written what may seem like self interested, somewhat myopic articles. See, having an audience is sort of like therapy. Except cheaper. And whether you know it or not, you do well by me. You force me to think. Sometimes in ways that arenít so pretty.
So this time, I want to try and give back some of what you, in the last few months, have given me -- a pseudo remedy. That is to say, something you might actually find useful, and maybe even think about the next time you contemplate shredding your bright idea.
Iíve turned my consciousness inside out and keep coming back to how daunting the process feels. I teach writing, and what really stands out is that many students feel alienated both by writing methods, and by the odd-man-out status some writers inadvertently impose when they preach.
Itís all smoke and mirrors.
At the sake of sounding pretentious, itís easy to sermonize a proscribed belief. There are defined writing techniques. But writing is also subjective, and so, dependent on our own writing personalities. There isn't just one pat principle. Individuality is the holy grail of writing, as it should be.
A lot of writers and writerís manuals regurgitate mucked-up self-help how-tos about writing. And occasionally, some of it is helpful. Especially when it covers practicalities. But just as much is ego-driven eulogy, tips based on isolated experiences or unrealistic ideals. And it not only makes the reader feel lousy, but fails to get to the heart of anything real.
But everyone has something to say about how we should write. I do it too. Every Wednesday at 8 am, every week. And ultimately, a good portion of it is pompous baloney.
Writers say and do things, out of self-interest, that we donít really mean. We put our own writing on a pedestal; making the process, to new writers particularly, seem real scary. But we are also capable, at least once in a while, of being sincere.
Honestly, I seriously have less than a clue how I fell into writing Ė how I learned to write, or, really, if Iím even succeeding. Nothing, other than that someone else decided to let me do it, qualifies me to tell you how to write anything.
Feel free to disagree, but the fact that you are here, that you are reading this right now, seems like pretty strong evidence you know as much as anyone else. Donít let an "expert" convince you differently. Follow your instinct.
Itís all trial and error. Like life Ė creativity is a subjective experience that you just cannot measure by someone elseís scheme. There isnít anyone, whether they admit it or not, who knows everything there is to know about anything. And any writer who says differently is either deluded or lying.
As far as I am concerned, most "advice" isnít good for much more than making you feel worse about what you already think you donít know about writing. So Iím not going to give you tips or how-tos. Besides, you have IN's other fine writers, with much more experience, to turn to for that sort of thing.
I just want to impart this idea here, and in the future, that writing is a collective experience we all share, even if wildly differently. That we all, secretly, have similar hopes and fears. That no writer is better than another because they write in one genre or another, because theyíve been published or because they think they know more about style or the industry.
So please, have a seat on my couch. While I donít have much to say about the right or wrong way to tell a story or sell a book, I get you. And I take comfort each month imagining you maybe get me.
Jennifer Edelson is a Minnesota attorney and legal writing professor. Her writing has appeared on all the finest refrigerators in the Twin Cities. Jennifer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org