On the Practice of Writing

My main goal while on sabbatical this year is to reflect about and practice writing; it’s one of the reasons I started this blog to begin with.

Today, I thought I’d put together some of my thoughts on the practice of writing and those who have been influential in my own practice of writing.

The writers who’ve most influenced me in their practice are Nora Roberts and Louis L’Amour. They might seem like widely disparate authors, and in terms of content and story, they are.

However, when it comes to their practice, they approached writing similarly. I always enjoyed reading the bio of Louis L’Amour that appeared in the front of each of his books and the philosophy expressed therein. It spoke of his long and varied career in other professions, his belief in describing actual places as they were, and his firm approach to sitting down daily to write, regardless of distraction.

L’Amour was a self-taught writer, and his book, Education of Wandering Man, offered insight into his thought process that remains useful and relevant. Ryan Mizzen recently posted an article on The Writing Cooperative that highlights L’Amour’s best ten lessons on writing. Of them all, the notion that writers who want to write should just keep writing is the one that sticks:

“Start writing, no matter about what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. You can sit and look at a page for a long time and nothing will happen. Start writing and it will.” –Louis L’Amour

Nora Roberts is probably best known for her romance fiction, but she also writes mystery under a different pseudonym. She is legendary in some circles for her prolific output. These days, she usually has two trade paperbacks, one hardcover stand-alone novel, and two additions to her “In Death” series, also in hard cover, every year.

I’ve written/edited three books, and I can tell you, the challenge of coming up with five books PER YEAR is stunning.

When asked, Roberts offers the same insight. Writers must write. She treats writing like a full-time a job (which it is, for her), and sits in her office writing during regular first shift hours. Her biggest pieces of advice for writers?

“Write what you like to read – if you are not captured by the story, who will be? Write every day – a habit that you need to build. And remember to have fun with it.” — Nora Roberts

Some might ask about my lifelong interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder and ask about her influence, but honestly, her story as woman and her observations and technique were more influential than her actual writing practice. Wilder’s story is one of persistence and practicality, and a model for the idea that retirement is a fallacy.

For practical writing, I’d cite her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, as an influence. Lane threw herself into writing as a means of supporting herself, her soon-to-be-ex-husband, and her parents in the 1910s. Her diaries record lists of books about writing, and they reflect her thoughtful interrogation of the materials as she pushed forward into a freelance market after World War I.

She struggled greatly with her mental health, but pushed forward to write constantly, in whatever genre or format was necessary for the people who paid her, and treated her work. I talk about this more in my contribution to Pioneer Perspectives. For Lane, writing was her job, her means of travel, and her necessary place of expression.

Engaging in this blog this year is in part a means of putting into practice the advice from these sage writers. I’m forcing myself to write daily, and writing here twice a week reflects that commitment. I’m also working on other projects, such as new research into British journalism history and more reflection on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her popularity over time.

None of it will get done unless I sit and write. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

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