Every writer I know has to learn the lessons taught by every other writer who comes before. The lessons, like the truest platitudes, are simple and direct. And yet, somehow, every newbie thinks they can be ignored.
Take diligence, for example. I’m talking about the diligence that comes from writing every day. The kind of diligence that gets to the last page of the book you’re writing. The kind of diligence that moves all the other crud out of the way so that you focus on your work.
At one point in my writing career, I spent time reading interviews with other writers, mostly in the Paris Review of Books (still the best, in my opinion). When asked, every single writer talked about the importance of regular writing habits. Every one of them echoed Carl Sandburg’s dictum that books are written “One word at a time.”
There’s no way around that in any creative endeavor from making soup to making a quilt, to constructing a building or drawing a picture of your cat. It’s one onion, one seam, one wall or one line at a time.
I’m coming around the corner on a novel. I can feel its last page on the horizon, like the sun at the moment before it crests over the mountains to our east. I’ve poked at this novel at least twice in the past, abandoning the effort after reams of paper have sacrificed themselves because I’d cornered myself in something that didn’t fit quite right. But when I started this time, the writing just flowed out of me.
Mind, I’ve had to adjust the arc of the story a bit to fit my time frame better, and spent time going back to assess what I’ve learned about my characters. But the writing flows. It’s become a need, an act that I must do like a ritual every morning before I can move onto anything else in my day. Yep, Sandburg was right—one word at a time, daily.