About ten years ago, losing all rationality, I decided to take up golf.
In those first couple of years I bought books and tapes and subscribed to the magazines. I was sure with enough study and practice I’d be shooting 80 soon. Those of you who golf are laughing now. But I wasn’t laughing. I also wasn’t having fun. I thought the best course might be to chuck the whole thing and take up needlepoint.
What had happened was that I’d pumped my head full of techniques and tips and reminders and visuals. And I was always trying to remember every one of them as I played. You know, like the twenty-two steps to perfect putting and the thirteen most important things remember at point of impact.
Just before flinging my clubs into the Dumpster, I met a golf teacher named Wally Armstrong. Wally is well known for his teaching skills, using simple household items—like brooms and coat hangers and sponges—to implant the feel of various aspects of the game.
If you’re thinking about the swing while you’re playing, Wally says, you’re lost. You’ll tense up. You will find yourself in a labyrinth of theory, with no way out.
But if you have the feel ingrained, you can forget about all the technical stuff and just play. Your body, trained in the feel, does its thing.
Wally was right, and I’ve been enjoying the game ever since. I don’t shoot below 80 yet, but I have fun and don’t embarrass myself.
Or rarely, that is.
Now, it seems to me that writing good fiction is a lot like playing good golf. With the same dangers, too. There is no end of books and articles teaching various aspects of the craft. But if you are trying to think of them all as you write, you’ll tense up. You won’t write, as Brenda Ueland puts it, “freely and rollickingly.” Plus, it won’t be any fun. You’ll feel like throwing your pages in the Dumpster (okay, many writers feel this way anyway, but that’s just an occupational hazard).
So what I want you to be able to do is feel your writing. When you sit down for a writing stint, don’t think about technique. Just write. Let it flow. Later, you’ll come back to it and revise. This book will show you how.
When you’re not writing, keep learning the craft. Increase the storehouse of knowledge. Analyze your work with techniques in mind.
But when you’re writing, write. Trust that the techniques you are learning will flow out naturally.
When they don’t, you can learn to see where the problems are.
That’s what self-editing and revision are all about. Learning, feeling, writing, analyzing, correcting and making your writing better.
Over and over.