A few years ago, a friend allowed me the great privilege of coming to her house before a cross-country move and picking books from her stash to keep as my own. This act—this charitable book-giving—I count among the most noble and wonderful of gestures.
From her shelf, I was able to grab all sorts of great reads: O’Connor, Foucault, Barthes, Lamott, etc….
One book I grabbed was called Letters to a Fiction Writer, a collection curated by Frederick Bush (Goodreads link) that features 33 letters written by authors of all kinds on the art of writing fiction. It was annotated up by my friend, from some class at some point in her academic career.
I didn’t touch the book for a few years, but as I began my journey to writing my first novel, I figured I may as well pick it up.
It was a slow journey reading it all the way through since many letters are packed with wisdom, advice, warnings, quotes, anecdotes, the like. Some were tactical, others strategic. Some written specifically to an aspiring writer, some of the royal “we” of amateur fictioning. And, as with most things, some were unforgettable, and some didn’t elicit a single marking of the page (and I mark up a lot of pages).
In reading, I started to collect some of the more moving tidbits, in hope they’d guide me in my first novel project. The list I kept on the last blank page of the book and by reading’s end, although I had underlined and dog-eared a lot more, I came away with 26 little “lessons” derived from these letters.
Now, these are 26 lessons that are not the typical, or repeated, pieces of advice that came in most, if not all, of the letters. These include: you have to write. You have to edit. You have to be disciplined. You have to read.
The 26 I picked were more nuanced, more full of flavor, more personal somehow even if they weren’t meant to be. And so I keep this blog of my journey in writing my novel, I’m going to share these 26 lessons.
But I don’t want to do it all at once AND I want to dive into each to see how it resonates (if it does at all), with where I am physically or in the book and what it means to me at that moment.
And so, if I have the courage and conviction to finish it, it shall be a serialized blog set of 26 posts. Each with a new lesson that I reflect on as if it were truly the pearl of wisdom that the writer purports it to be in his or her letter.
Let’s get on with it.