I wish I could find this picture I used to have of a huge notebook, it looked like several pounds and was the shape of an artist’s sketchbook. It was for writing, but of writing music, not poetry or prose. I forget who the composer who compiled it was. He was–alas–not famous, despite his industry. I took it to a conference on journaling with the planned expectation: this is something to aspire to, not feel humiliated when you do not quite meet it.
Alas, I think I scared away the group whom I was supposed to be speaking to. I had procured the job of MC for the previous month, and wrote the best speech I could on the subject I thought was most necessary to be a writer, “What structure do you use to write a book?” I had three people who had volunteered to share how they had written what they had written. I sincerely hoped it would give ideas of how to go about writing to those in our group–the Kansas Writer’s Association–who though they had vague premonitions of writing had never gotten out the paper and pencil (or pen) and started work.
Well, it didn’t go well. The fact that the first one was okay, the second one a little flakey, and the third one went to pieces… I did feel somewhat guilty, except that when I had joined the group I was hoping that what I would get help on was “How do I get help on what I have already written?” not “If I ever think about it, what would I write?” I know this is probably intolerant on my part… but I assumed hard work was a part of it.
Now I knew I’d driven away the flock: I had the picture; I had bags of my journals to show the group; I had my speech. Out of fifty or sixty people I had fewer than six people there to read my speech to. Well, I read my speech. I have often wondered if that was not the beginning of the end of my being a member of the Kansas Writers Association. I have had similar problems elsewhere.
Well, we will leave my social problems alone for a while. Evidently I am not the best “writing coach” if anyone is. Yet I did have a Creative Writing teacher who taught me something–and I should have stuck out her class–valuable that was the beginning of what I hoped to teach at the lecture I held. She told us on the first day of class that she wanted each of us to write in a journal. I forget what all she had us write in it: words we looked up in the Oxford English Dictionary; Forks in the Road of our lives; other creative scraps. Anyway, the idea of the Journal stuck, even if I chickened out of the class (and it was absolutely my fault).
The idea is that every time you have an idea you should write it down in your notebook. Then you should schedule a time each day to work on your notebook. You find a good idea in your notebook–ideally the one you consider “best” at the moment–and then you write an outline or begin a draft. One book I wrote, Faust in Love, is 39 Chapters long because “40 is the number of completion.” I still hope it is published someday.
Anyway, the key skill necessary for writing is not so much the ability but the willingness to write. That is why if I ever find that huge journal, I will make sure to stick it on my sight. I told the reader the last time I wrote that from 21 to after graduate school, I couldn’t seem to write anything… and then so many of the results were terrible. I still have flashbacks to John Brown’s Body if I am not careful.
Nonetheless, all you need to write are the following: pen, paper, and a journal. Worry about the writing first. Later worry about the computer to type it up and the internet to find a publisher. If you have nothing written, there is no point in bothering with the rest of it.