Writing Advice: Work on your character

The five cardinal rules (or six)

(1) Work on your character. (2) Work on your handling of language so that you know what you’re doing and can do it well and be in control. (3) Know your language—its words and phrases and idioms—deeply through every kind of study of it. (4) Say what you want to say without inhibition, in the way you want to say it, regardless of what other people might think (but with sensitivity to the feelings of others). (5) Work hard (write a lot), and be patient.

I’ll say it again, slightly differently: (1) Work closely on your technique. (2) Separately, develop your mind and character. (3) When you write, write freely, as you want to, following your own interests. (4) Work hard; be painstaking in your revision. (5) Be patient; let time go by if you have to. (6) Disregard what other people may think (but not what they may feel).

Lydia Davis – Essays One

Pretty sure this actually just ends up being 11 rules (or maybe 9). Given the emphasis Davis puts on precision I find the (almost) repetition interesting. Davis goes on to clarify how she understands the relationship between who you are and your writing: “… your nature, your character, your whole being will produce the kind of writing you do.” Which, you know, isn’t terrifying at all. She goes on, “That is why we hate clichés so much: they don’t reflect your own, very individual person; they are borrowed ideas, in outworn language.”

I read Essays One a few years ago but, as you might have guessed by the relative inactivity around here, I am scuffling a little bit at the moment with my writing, trying to find a way forward. I’m going to call it patience.