For those unfamiliar with Flannery or who’d like a refresher, see the ever-handy Wikipedia for a brief introduction.
This week’s installment of friendly insight from Flannery brings us to p. 188 of her wonderful letters, The Habit of Being. In this letter to “A,” we find Flannery advising against writing for the sake of mere exercise:
“Experiment but for heaven sakes don’t go writing exercises. You will never be interested in anything that is just an exercise and there is no reason you should,” she says. “Don’t do anything that you are not interested in and that don’t have a promise of being whole.”
(Note: Flannery is known for not always using grammatically correct language, and in this book, that language is preserved as written.)
In the same paragraph, she also advises against plotting: “You would probably do just as well to get that plot busines out of your head and start simply with a character or anything that you can make come alive. When you have a character he will create his own situation and his situation will suggest some kind of resolution as you get into it.”
I don’t think Flannery is saying, if you are a plotter, to quite plotting, and that if you find writing exercises helpful in prompting your creative juices, you ought to quit doing them. Context and the main point need always be considered.
What sticks out to me in her advice are these words: “whole” in the first and “come alive” in the second.
To me, blogs fall under the exercise umbrella, and yet I see them as part of the whole of the bigger picture of my writing; thus, they are not a waste of time. But if I were writing something, a novel perhaps, with the idea that the first 300 pages were just for practice, then that might be a waste. Because why make it a dress rehearsal when the actors and audience are already forming? And I think that’s what Flannery is advising against. “If we’re going to do this thing, then let’s get the show on the road. Let’s make it count.”
I also hear her saying this: Life is short. Tackle those projects with which you are most passionate. When you tap into those works, your writing will come alive. And when it does for you, it will for others as well.
How to make your writing come alive? Consider what stirs your heart. Think on those things, and let them breathe life into your writing, whether it be your characters or the stories you’re tackling.
I wish you a writing week filled with purposeful writing that connects to the whole in some way, and that you will write something — even if it’s just a sentence or paragraph — that feels charged with life-giving energy.
Q4U: What are your thoughts on Flannery’s advice?