Walk past a group of kids,
and you'll almost always hear one of them telling
the others a story ("And he's there...and she's
there..."). Jokes are stories. Telling someone about
your day is a story. Recalling the details of a
traffic accident is a story. Evidence suggests even
told stories. There seems to be a neverending need for people to exchange
stories, to define our world and our selves with narrative. I wonder
whether the real difference between human beings and other animals is the
practice of telling stories. Do animals tell stories? I suppose the scout
that does its elaborate aerial dance detailing the path to the nectar
thought of as telling a story ("Turn right at the big tree. Then fly over
field of timothy"). And maybe a wolf marking its territory with
urine is, in a way, telling a story ("Stay away! This is my place, and I
am fierce!"). Even a sign can be a story ("Slow! Children at play!").
Whatever your definition of a story, the one certain thing is that stories
seem to be a vital part of what it means to be a human being.
Paleolithic Cave Painting
So there are stories all around us and as far back as the beginning of
recorded history, and surely long before that. Maybe that's why some people
think writing is a natural, and not a learned, ability.
They think writing is a talent you're born with, one that
can't be taught or learned. "Writers are born, not made," they say.
In fact, some people
think teaching writing is harmful to
the creative impulse. They
think there are no rules for
Writing, they think, is as natural as
breathing. "She's a
born writer," they
Either you have an innate talent for it or you don't.
But all this is untrue,
a lie in service of the ego, and it leads to all kind of silliness.
It leads to thinking that all you need to be a writer is an attitude.
Maybe that's true if all you want to be is a bad writer. Is that all you
want to be?
Gardner was right. There are no rules for writing. But it takes
a lot more than attitude to become a writer. It takes work. It takes
It takes reading until your eyes throb. It takes the willingess to endure
criticism. It takes deep thought, high energy, magic, and luck. It takes
what zen buddhists call shoshin, "beginner's mind."
What follows is a set of practices and assumptions that seem to
me. They may not work for you. But if thinking about mine helps you
to come up with your own, that may be just as good. In fact, better.
After all, there's more than one trail to the lost coast. And the best one
for you is the one you make yourself.