(a/k/a, “Quit trying to make pigs out of sausage.”)
This used copy of Writing for Your Readers cost me US$2.97 used on Amazon Marketplace. So, imagine my surprise yesterday, when it arrived and I opened it to discover it’s autographed by Don Murray. With a funny little self-portrait doodle and all!
Made my day. Plus, it seems like a good omen, right?
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the late Don Murray, whose advice to writers has helped me turn a corner with my book over the last few weeks.
I’ve been inspired by many books and been educated by countless more. But Murray’s work is different. He’s on a different level — broadcasting from the inside, if that makes any sense.
Murray was a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, longtime columnist for the Boston Globe, and a highly-respected and revered teacher of writing teachers. And, for what it’s worth, the man wrote every day until the end, and even filed his (touching) last column a couple days before he died in 2006 at the age of 82.
His insight into how the whole writing process works is not only brilliant and humane — it fundamentally explodes the most damaging myths about how writing gets made and why it’s so bloody hard in the first place. Some of my takeaways (in my words):
Anyhow. You writer people: go read this guy. Seriously.
Samples from The Essential Don Murray:
Even the most productive writers are expert dawdlers, doers of unnecessary errands, seekers of interruptions-trials to their wives or husbands. friends. associates, and themselves. They sharpen well-pointed pencils and go out to buy more blank paper, rearrange offices, wander through libraries and bookstores. chop wood, walk, drive, make unnecessary calls, nap, daydream, and try not “consciously” to think about what they are going to write so they can think subconsciously about it.
What the writer does under the pressure not to write and the four countervailing pressures to write is best described by the word rehearsal, which I first heard used by Dr. Donald Graves of the University of New Hampshire to describe what he saw young children doing as they began to write…
What is the process we should teach? It is the process of discovery through language. It is the process of exploration of what we should know and what we feel about what we know through language. It is the process of using language to learn about our world, to evaluate what we learn about our world, to communicate what we learn about our world.
The process of making meaning with written language can not be understood by looking backward from a finished page. Process can not be inferred from product any more than a pig can be inferred from a sausage.