I've been listening to other writers. Listening is something I need to work on anyway and it might as well be to other writers. Not knowing as many writers in person as I would like (not yet anyway), I played an old podcast with David Sax who wrote the wonderful The Revenge Of Analog . He talked about some of the ways in which he works and how he feels about writing.
An illuminating moment came in part two of the episode when he described how some writers just love the act of writing but for him it's much more that he loves gathering the information, doing reporting and research, and then, well, what else is he going to do but write it? Once he gets going with the actual writing the process works for him, but he's not the type who says, oh boy, I'm just going to write for the hell of it!
That's my line and people tire of hearing me say it.
Students at school can't get how I enjoy banging away at a keyboard for twenty minutes, an hour, or the entire morning and into the afternoon. "You don't even have an idea you're working on," they say. I tell them that I'll have an idea once I get writing. Then I turn to the keyboard or pick up my pen and go to work. The writing comes to me through the writing. That's just how I write. Well, it's one way I write.
Lately I've been thinking, okay, so I enjoy the act of writing, but what do I have to say? It's a good question but the answer in my case comes not from deciding too much before I write but is a result instead of hitting the keys, pushing the pen, and seeing what happens. Still, I'm often asked what kind of a writer I want to be. It's a good question and I ought to have an answer.
Mostly, I want to be an essayist in the mold of E.B. White, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, and others who write what they see, hear, and experience in the world. Sure, Berry writes mostly about conservation and the natural world, but his essays range all over the place. Their one unifying quality is that they are all Wendell Berry essays. There's a feel and texture to these people's work that just pulls people along. It sure as hell has worked on me for thirty years even if I can't exactly nail it down. Who needs it nailed down?
I mean, what does David Sedaris write about? Whatever it might be it's great and I can't get enough. I've paid good money almost half a dozen times to hear him read his stuff in person. He's an essayist and I follow him like he's a rock star and I'm a groupie.
My thinking about writing is this: it comes down to finding what each of us has to say and either saying it or turning away from it to watch Entertainment Tonight. Maybe there are shades between those extremes of light and dark. Whatever the case, I'm figuring things out slowly. Pretty much one word at a time. My own words and the words of every good writer I can listen to and whose pages I can turn.