The hardest part of writing

Inspiration can pop up in the most surprising places. Words of wisdom are often found where you'd least expect to encounter them.

At Christmas, some good friends of ours gave Charlie a copy of Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time". I picked it up a few days ago and just finished it last night.

I only heard about this book for the first time last year. Seems it's a very popular and well-known children's book over here in Canada, even winning a coveted Newbery medal in 1963. But growing up in England, somehow Ms. L'Engle's work just never showed up in my circle of influence as a child.

It's a distinctly odd, but utterly delightful book - well worth a read, whatever age you happen to be.

At the back of the paperback edition I was reading, there are a couple of extras thrown in to pad it out a bit. I like that - kind of the old skool version of the special features on a DVD.

One of the pieces included is the acceptance speech Madeleine L'Engle delivered on receiving the Newbery. There's a section in the speech that really resonated for me, so I thought it was worth sharing here.

Discussing the act of writing and the challenge of coming up with stuff that will stimulate and expand young minds, she says:

So how do we do it? We can’t just sit down at our typewriters and turn out explosive material. I took a course in college on Chaucer, one of the most explosive, imaginative, and far-reaching in influence of all writers. And I’ll never forget going to the final exam and being asked why Chaucer used certain verbal devices, certain adjectives, why he had certain characters behave in certain ways. And I wrote in a white heat of fury, “I don’t think Chaucer had any idea why he did any of these things. That isn’t the way people write.”

I believe this as strongly now as I did then. Most of what is best in writing isn’t done deliberately.

Do I mean, then, that an author should sit around like a phony Zen Buddhist in his pad, drinking endless cups of espresso coffee and waiting for inspiration to descend upon him? That isn’t the way the writer works, either. I heard a famous author say once that the hardest part of writing a book was making yourself sit down at the typewriter. I know what he meant.
And I think I know exactly what he meant, and what Madeleine L'Engle meant too.

The hardest part of writing is just writing. Sitting down, every day if possible, and just writing. Everything else just comes.

It can be hard to do - and it gets even more painful when you haven't done it for a while. But when you do it regularly, it gets better and starts to feels easier. Want to become a better writer? Then write.

(The full text of Ms. L'Engle's speech is online, btw. It's a good read.)