Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The World According to John

(I'm back online!!! I'm back online!!! With a super-long post because, let's face it, getting back online is like shaking up the bottle before you pop the cork...can't...stop...typing!)

OK, here goes...

I tried to be a serious writer after college. Really I did. I churned out self-conscious short stories and derivative screenplays, and even made a stab at a novel or two. I had a good imagination, and (pre-marriage/pre-babies) all the time in the world, but I just wasn't ready. Was I lacking in life experience? Maybe. Did I like the idea of being a writer more than the actual grunt work writing for a living entails? Possibly. I don't really know. I do know that I liked to sit in NYC bars like Kettle of Fish, drink cocktail after cocktail and bore pretentious tourists with my really great ideas. Ideas that did indeed sound pretty awesome after a steady stream of vodka and cranberries, but somehow never made it to the page.

When, in my early thirties, I decided to commit myself to writing--again--I pursued it with a vigor I simply didn't have in my twenties. This didn't make sense to me. I was a mommy twice over; I taught night school; I was exhausted. I should not have had time for writing, but somehow I made the time. I took help where I could get it--babysitting, beta-reading, backrubs from the hub. Though I didn't have the time or money to take creative writing classes, I did the next best thing to secure an education--I went to the library.

It was there I found On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, two books worth their authors' weight in gold as far as technique. I also found a great book about writing YA by K.L. Going, and a cheap copy of The Elements of Style, that old classic by Strunk and White, at the library book sale. All of these books taught me invaluable lessons about writing, and reinforced what I instinctively knew. Just thinking about these books can fill me with confidence, because the subtext of each is, you can do this!

But...sometimes...after staring at a blank page for an hour, writerly neurosis throws quick drying cement down the neural pathway devoted to creativity. Happened to me last week. I just...stopped. So, what did I do? I scrolled through my mental bookshelf, skipped over the books on writing and went to an old favorite about writers: The World According to Garp. Luckily I'm scary-obsessed with John Irving, so I found a copy on my actual bookshelf, and got to reading.

The World According to Garp is about many, many things, but what stood out to me on this read was the amount of time Irving spends showing us how a writer's imagination is formed and used in the process of becoming a writer. Real life will filter in, but, as Garp learns, it doesn't substitute for how the imaginary makes a story infinitely better. Irving explores this through Garp's short writerly life and the parallels to my own writing (and yours, I'd bet) are fascinating. I finished the book renewed and excited about my WIP again.

Incidentally, John Irving's new novel, Last Night in Twisted River, comes out in October. You can bet I'll buy it in hardcover!


  1. Anne Lamott's idea writing is like driving in a car with the headlights on has gotten me through many a first draft.

  2. I love hearing about your journey to where you are now. We think you're a pretty amazing writer, so it's cool to see how you found your way. I'm definitely going to check out some of those books!

  3. All things Irving! AMEN! The craft, the story crafting and beautiful sentences, fluid and thoughtful. Real and surreal.

    Great Post. So helpful. I've never read the Anne Lamont one and now MUST.


  4. I want to check out that Stephen King one- I think I'd really enjoy it. Woo!! (BTW, cranberry vodkas for the win)