I thought I'd found that in The Sound of Paper. The book consists of short, essay-type chapters, and each one ends with a "Try This" exercise. I enjoyed the first fifty or so pages and completed many of the prompts (my favorite was the task to describe myself as I "would a literary character, in the third person").
But then the essays began to feel very repetitive and had almost nothing to do with improving writing. Every essay seemed to be about the drought in Taos, New Mexico (where the author was living at the time), which turned into a metaphor for the droughts that all artists face at one time or another in their careers. I began to see that this was not so much a book about writing as it was a book of encouragement.
By this time, I was about one hundred and fifty pages in. I considered abandoning it, but I had already invested so much time in it, and I didn't really have the heart to pick out something else at this late date in the year. So I muscled my way through the second half. And that is literally what it felt like. I would pick it up, grit my teeth, dive in, and read as much as I could before I couldn't take it anymore.
Luckily, there were a few gems, which rewarded my efforts:
- This advice, from a friend of hers: "I write a draft, then I let it breathe for a while, and when I come back to it, I have a new perspective." (This sums up my own writing process perfectly.)
- "Unlimited time became the luxury I yearned for, but because I didn't have it, time became what I learned to use. A minute here and a minute there, and there was, surprisingly, 'enough' of it." (Sound advice for me in the stage of motherhood I'm in right now--I can't sit around and wait for the perfect stretch of time. I have to use what I can get.)
- "Doesn't the inner perfectionist always hook you in the ego? 'You're not going to be any good,' the inner perfectionist spits out. When we respond, 'That's okay. I think I will try it anyhow,' the inner perfectionist comes up fresh out of stratagems. There's no fighting humility." (Some of my best writing has happened when I take all the pressure off myself.)
- "A piece of art needs a recipient. Otherwise we are pitching pennies down a well with no bottom. There is no tiny splash or 'plunk' of connection, and so we feel lost, crazy, shallow, immature." (This is why, even when I tell myself I'm just writing this blog for myself, I still look forward to the comments from you, my dear blog readers.)