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Advice for writers: Writing

Posted by Robin Abrahams  March 6, 2008 07:48 PM

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As I said below, aspiring writers need to do three things: write, live, and network. Here's what I know about writing.

If you want to write, then write. And all writing counts: the PowerPoints and memos that you write for your "day job," the e-mails that you send to your friends. (And thank-you notes! Don't forget them!) Use every writing opportunity as a chance to learn something about different audiences, different genres, different media. Even your grocery lists should be written mindfully. Try to bring logic, clarity, wit, and style to everything you write. Art is about working gracefully within constraints--the formal constraints of a memo may be less sublime than those of, say, a sonnet, but they can still teach you something about who you are as a writer.

Real writers don't talk about their "real writing." Real writers know that all writing is real writing.

Get to know yourself as a writer. A piece of advice frequently given is, "Write what you like to read." I'm ambivalent about that. On the one hand, yes, you need to have a certain knowledge and love of a kind of writing before you can attempt it. I've always liked self-help books, advice columns, humor, pop sociology. (Major influences: Peg Bracken, Jean Kerr, Florence King.) On the other hand, don't assume that just because you really love a particular kind of writing, you can work in that genre. I tried for years to write fiction and it just doesn't happen for me--I love dark psychological thrillers, academic satires, stories of ordinary lives gone off the rails, science fiction--and I can't write any of it to save my life. (Major influences: Patricia Highsmith, John L'Heureux, Alison Lurie, Iris Murdoch, Nancy Kress.) I'm not a storyteller and never will be. Be the writer you are, not the writer you wish you could be.

And get to know the process that works best for you, as well as the product that you can produce. Some people plan, some people sit and see where the pen or keypad takes them. I write in layers, building up my writing the way an oil painter builds up a painting on a canvas. I start with a few ideas, lightly sketch them in, and then add more nuance here, a few more examples there, tie this paragraph into this one a little more seamlessly, until it's done. It's a process of note-taking that evolves into editing and polishing without ever really becoming "writing," and it works for me. Find out what works for you.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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