Friday, December 9, 2016

Volmer: License to Write: Part III Your License to Write


Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Mary Volmer, basketball player turned historical novelist and teacher at Saint Mary’s College (CA). Author of Crown of Dust and Reliance, Illinois.

      Click here to see the last post I wrote about the importance of mastering the rules of the craft, and finding space and time to work. Today we’ll talk about getting it wrong, and issue your License to Write!

You Are Going to Get it Wrong

Every year at least one student comes to me despairing because her story, or essay, or poem, won’t do what she intended. Don’t despair! Your first conception will evolve. Your plan will change. You are not entirely in control of your own material, and thank goodness, because what we intend in the first flush of inspiration is rarely as interesting or as original as what emerges unconsciously, with labor, over time. Feel free to outline and story board—I love to outline—so long as you understand your job is not to control, but to serve the story as it emerges, and to shape it. 

And yes, you will get it wrong.  

In an essay called “Shitty First Drafts,” Anne Lamott writes: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something -- anything -- down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft -- you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft -- you fix it up.” 

Says coaching legend John Wooden: "If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes." 

“We learn by doing,” says Aristotle, “Men become builders by building houses and harpists by playing the harp.” 

Writers become writers by writing, by writing poorly, by re-visioning and rewriting. 

You will get it wrong. Getting it wrong is the first step—the most important step—toward getting it right. Don’t despair over those dead ends and discarded pages. Words are the world’s most renewable resource! You cannot waste words. 

Think of those discarded pages, all those hours of work, all those wrong turns as compost. That smelly heap of banana peels, pizza crusts, egg shells are what remains of material that nourished you. It is the soil out of which your book will grow. Rejoice in that.  

License to Write


Your vision will change. You get it wrong again and again, before you get it right. The doubt you feel when you’re stuck, when you’re dejected is natural and as necessary as the faith you’ll need to keep going.

If you’ll indulge me one more athletic analogy: novel writing is an endurance sport, a marathon. Think of your faith and doubt as equipment you need to compete. Think of them as running shoes: right shoe faith; left shoe doubt. Doubt keeps you honest, faith keep you going.

Keep going. Remind yourself why you write—why you are writing this book. And if you need written permission to pursue this mad obsession, click on this link and print the document. This my friends, my fellow writers, is a license to write. It is your license to write. 

Now, pay attention because this is important. There are two matching copies of the same document, one atop the other. The first line on the top copy should be signed by someone else. It can be someone in this room. It can be a stranger, or your husband, wife, daughter, or son. Bring it to the conference. I’ll be happy to sign it.

It will read something like this: 

I, __Mary Volmer__, hereby give _(your name)_ permission to write. This permission is not contingent upon publication of a novel, story, play, screenplay, chapbook, biography or any equivalent work attempted, nor is it contingent upon achieving perfection. It is an unqualified license to write.
 
Rights granted shall include but not be limited to: the right to make the time necessary to practice your craft; the right to fail and try again, and again, and again...; the right to enjoy small gorgeous moments of insight; the right to doubt your work; the right to rest, retreat, and listen to the voice of wisdom seated in your soul; the right to surrender your intentions and start over; the right to read deeply, obsessively, and gratefully the works of writers who have come before you; the right to quit if said activities do not bring fulfillment and some measure of pleasure.  


The second copy is different. With this copy you will give yourself permission. 

I, _______________________________, hereby give ______________________________ permission to write. This permission is not contingent upon publication of a novel, story, play, screenplay, chapbook, biography or any equivalent work attempted, nor is it contingent upon achieving perfection. It is an unqualified license to write.

Rights granted shall include but not be limited to: the right to make the time necessary to practice your craft; the right to fail and try again, and again, and again...; the right to enjoy small gorgeous moments of insight; the right to doubt your work; the right to rest, retreat, and listen to the voice of wisdom seated in your soul; the right to surrender your intentions and start over; the right to read deeply, obsessively, and gratefully the works of writers who have come before you; the right to quit if said activities do not bring some measure of pleasure. 

Frame the sucker.
Hang it above your writing desk. Put in your purse, your notebook, your backpack. Take it out when you need it. And please notice the last, and perhaps the most important line in the license. Freedom to quit. Freedom to walk away and find fulfilment in other pursuits. 

There is suffering in art. There is failure. The practice itself must sustain you: the daily effort and inspiration. Because small, solitary, contemplative pleasures are the true rewards of the writing life. Thank you. I wish you success however you define that word.

3 comments:

  1. Nicely written and inspirational. Thank you, Mary Volker. This piece makes me want to hear more.

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    Replies
    1. My pleasure Linda! Love to chat more. See you at the conference?

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  2. P.S. You can find a downloadable "License to Write" on my blog: http://www.maryvolmer.com/blog/license-to-write-part-3-your-license-to-write

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