Many years ago, in the late 1990s, I think, I was in Barnes and Noble in Bayside, New York, and Peter Straub was reading from one of his books. Afterward, there was the usual question and answer. I asked him, as I often do, if he had any advice for writers.
Straub looked down, scratched his chin, and shook his head slightly.
“Well,” he said, “I really wish I had something more profound to say, but the only thing I can say is: you need to write. Every day.”
Straub was silent for a moment.
“I…I really don’t have anything else to say. There are all of these writing books out there that give you all these ideas for finding creativity and everything, but none of them help you as much as just putting one word in front of the other. You’ll get better if you write every day, and nothing is going to help you with your writing more than doing it.”
There was another moment of silence.
“I just can’t give you any better piece of advice than that,” Straub said.
How right he was.
Straub is not, of course, the only writer to say this. In “On Writing,” Stephen King gives a number of sound pieces of advice about the grammatical mechanics of writing, and offers great little tips to get you started, such as the fact that writing about people at work often gets the juices flowing. For all that, though, the single best piece of advice in “On Writing” comprises seven words: “read a lot, and write a lot.”
It is, above all, about putting one word in front of the other. One of the things that has become so apparent to me, as I keep to this pledge of posting something every day, is that for a long time, I called myself a writer without having written much. Now, forced as I am to come up with something every day, I see that if I am going to call myself a writer, I must…write.
Yes, there will be scads of days in which there is no passion behind the words I tap out. It will often feel as dead and mechanical as working a factory job. On those days, words will march across the page with the dead eyed, soulless glaze on the eyes of soldiers marching in lockstep during a military parade in a totalitarian state.
And it’s during these times that I really see how right Straub and King are. If there is any insight to gain about writing from these entries, the bulk of the insight is in essays like these, when the words have little spirit or verve, but are just…there. Yet they are there, and that is the only way to ensure that more of them will find their way to this blog, and that some of them will be better than most.
Yes, there will be many more essays like this, because, for me, there will be many, many more times like this. I could get up, go to the library, and dip into countless books that offer thoughts on where I can find the inspiration to write. None of them, however, will offer benefits that quite rival the act of simply sitting down, and writing.
There are few other pursuits in which the most simple piece of advice needs to be restated again and again, but in writing, that’s the case. Straub’s advice is the advice from which all other pieces of writing advice bloom. Yes, look for inspiration, and yes, look for suggestions as to how to work on mechanics, but above all, as Straub said, the very best aid for writing is more writing.