Author’s note: I’m currently rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery (forty years of ultimate frisbee will, in fact, take its toll) and my time at the keyboard is constrained by my doctor’s – and my shoulder’s – orders. We could pause to dwell on the remarkable fact that the word “constrain” means both to require and repress, but that would be a waste of the few keystrokes I’m presently allowed. We could also note that “presently” means both now and later; instead let’s dip into the archives for this month’s missive, ripped from the pages of my book Creativity Rules…
The Noble Eightfold Path, that bedrock of Buddhist thought, is a simple, sublime prescription for anyone striving to live an effective life. It seems like it should work for writers, too.
Right Knowledge: Know what you’re up to. To the extent that you know yourself, write yourself. To the extent that you want to improve your writing, improve your self-knowledge. But world-knowledge counts too, especially if it’s knowledge that others don’t have. If you’re an avid hang glider, your hang gliding experience gives you unusual insights, a specialized vocabulary, a built-in market for your work, and an interesting story to tell. If you know a great deal about banana slugs, that’s kind of gross, but it gives you an edge over writers who know less in the highly competitive field of banana-slug scribery.
Right Aspiration: Set appropriate goals. There will always be a gap between the writer we are and the writer we want to be. Worse, in the sense that no matter what writing stunt we pull off, we always want to do more, we’re kind of always moving the goalposts on ourselves. Thus, there’s really no such thing as “done” for a writer; there’s only closing the gap. So embrace it. Feel yourself grow as a writer. Give yourself the satisfaction of hitting harder targets. Seek to be a better writer today than you were yesterday. That’s an appropriate goal, and one you can always achieve.
Right Speech: Say what you mean – effectively. Writing is code. When we write, we encode our thoughts as words on the page. When readers read, they decode our words back into thought. In this sense, writing and reading resemble the kids’ game of telephone, where a whispered phrase starts out as, “Hard choices confront diligent writers” and ends up as, “Head cheeses convert disco fever.” Remember that your code has power – the power to persuade. And the more you improve as a writer, the greater this power becomes. So have a care with your code, and make your message count. [Read more…]