Several years ago, I ran across an essay called My Advice on Writing Advice by David James Duncan. At that time, I had been years deep in an extended study of all the how-to writing memoirs I could find.
I was looking for the key that would crack the code, the secret sign, something . . . anything that would make the work of getting my thinking on the page easier. For me, writing was hard, and getting to the desk to sit and write was even harder. I did everything I could to push it off, until the pressure of a deadline finally pushed me into the chair.
But despite the goodwill and generosity of all the writers I read, all their sympathetic advice, I still flailed, procrastinated, and beat myself up.
Then, in Duncan’s essay, I read this:
“All paper, for all writers, is empty desert in the beginning. How you should traverse that desert is your own solitary business, not because experienced writers are unwilling to help you, but because the desert walk is so long and arduous that you want nothing extra in your pack.”
After reading this, I realized, for the first time, that everyone finds writing hard. More importantly, I understood that while I can take heart in the stories others tell of their treks, even pick up a few survival tips, I can’t carry them with me. Nor can they carry me. I have to go it alone.
Knowing this didn’t make writing any easier. I still resist and procrastinate. But I have begun to trust that when I do finally sit to write, I will find my way through the desert, that I will find order in my thinking and the words I need to give it life on the page. And for this faith, I am ever grateful for Mr. Duncan’s advice on writing advice.
Virtual Writing Center