Sometimes ‘filling the well’ feels more like ‘stuffing the turkey’–less graceful than water pouring into a well, to be sure.
As I try to move into my new, larger projects (two at a time! whoo-hoo!) I’m trying to learn from other mistakes and thought processes. Right now I’m reading Robert Olen Butler’s Where You Dream, Donald Maass’s Fire in Fiction, and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. So far I’ve discovered that there are ten billion different opinions on how to create a good story/art. Vogler talks structure, Butler talks process, and Maass talks a little of both. There have been ‘epiphanies’ and ‘eurekas’ and ‘that’s interestings’ in my head as I read these books.
I’ve heard the argument that writer’s books are just a way of dodging writing, and I thought briefly that maybe that’s what I was doing. But here’s the thing–I haven’t reached a pro level of writing yet. I have many more words to write and many more stories to finish/not finish to reach that level. Writing is one way to learn it, sure. But if you’re doing a lot of math problems to learn mathematics, it only works if you’ve learned how to do the problems correctly in the first place. Otherwise, you’re just throwing numbers on a page.
Writing to learn writing goes without saying. Reading a lot of what it is you want to write helps too. But if you don’t understand why what you’re reading works, or why the writing your producing doesn’t work, you’ll never improve. That’s why there are teachers, mentors…and books on writing.
I’m never attending Florida State University and will, therefore, never get to hear lectures in person from Butler, or any of the visiting writers like Junot Diaz. Stephen King isn’t going to meet me for coffee and reveal the writing life to me. The only way I get to hear from the pros and learn how they play is through these books.
Right now I try to think of it as tutors working with me. My brain is a little tired from all the new tools they’re throwing at me. But I think I’m learning something….