Hardcore Writers' Post: Helpful Hints
I have been approached many times over the years, in person and via email and this blog, for guidance in writing. (Hence, the writing meditations.) But sometimes, people ask me how they can learn to write like me, or put my notions into play. I always wonder--why would you want to write like me? You should, of course, write like yourself. Though, you know, if you wrote like Stephen King you could probably buy six or seven Luis Urreas and force them to mow your lawn.

I write like I write because I'm a frigging genius! But also because of all the factors that made my life hell for a long time, and that made my life into a parade of joy in small doses thatI replayed and rehearsed in my mind to carry me through the evil shadows. And, I will confess for the 1000th time--I'm a mystical foole. My Way is a strange and welcoming Way. But it's not for everyone. Of course not! Though I still believe the Urrealist Discipline of Trust and Details leads us to holy hoedowns of hubbub and haiku. But, you know, folks want more focus and direction. So this is for them.

A Book Shelf of Excellent Writing Books to Make You Write Better

For companionship, you can get The Quotable Writer edited by Lamar Underwood. Lots of famous writers give you all kinds of advice and wisdom. Great fun and great toilet-reading.

My favorite writing-books are William Stafford's four great GREAT volumes. Writing the Australian Crawl; You Must Revise Your Life; Crossing Unmarked Snow; The Answers Are Inside the Mountains. I find them life-altering. However, they aren't linear how-to guides. You must read with intuition in full flower. Along with these fine books, you owe it to Stafford to read his poetry. Then, his son Kim--who is easily one of the greatest writing-teachers on earth today, has two books (at least) that can teach you a thing or two. Early Morning is his powerful and sometimes troubling but deeply enlightening meditation on his father and his father's writing process. Kim's own The Muses Among Us is fantastic. An exploration of Kim's philosophy of "eloquent listening." Then read Kim's poems.

I find writers' letters and journals amazing writing guides. Neruda's memoir is full of his vision in action. Kerouac's letters, sketches, haikus and journals are a treasure-trove of abandon to the scene. Charles Bukowski, yes that ol' rummy bastard, has some of the most beautiful thoughts on writing in his letters. John Cheever's journals are a godesnd. Flannery O'Connor's writings and letters--wow. Eudora Welty--good God! Why are you reading this blog? Go, if you want to write, and find The Eye of the Story and her various collected thoughts, including her memoir.

Robert Hass's Essential Haiku will certainly put you in Urreaville, if that's where you want to go. You can not only meet Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki there, but you can start to understand their work and their philosophy. I would also strongly recommend Blythe or Henderson's books about haiku--if you understand the scholarly wisdom of the vision, you might enter the zen-zone and see the work become clear as that troubling shallow stream of a few blogs back.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life--for some good, intellectual thoughts on the writing life.
John Gardener, The Art of Fiction--good exercises that will test you.
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones--turn on your writing soul.
Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town--yes! Yes!
Stephen King--On Writing--like wrestler Ric Flair says, "To be the man, you've got to beat the man."
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird--a friendly guide through the jungle.

There's a start. If you read these few books, and add Ted Kooser's wonderful and friendly books of advice, and his poems!, you can give yourself an MA in writing. As long as you write.

I knew a guy who picked the perfect spot in his house in which to write. Took about four months--had to find the spot where the sun shone, but it was hard to figure out if the morning sun or the afternoon sun was more conducive to writing. Then he had to get the right books for his shelves--you know, On the Road, and, uh, probably some Twain--took a month or two. Had to find the best journal to write in and the best pens to write with. Had to find a fine chair for his tender writer ass. The perfect table--white? Oak? High? Low? Desk? Trundle? Door on sawhorses? Ikea? Antique? And don't forget the lamp! So, he sat down in the corner, but something wasn't right. Oh yeah! He was writing on a computer, but he needed a TYPEWRITER to look at! Maybe a candle or two, too. But what scent?

This torture went on, in place of actually just writing, for enough time that he ended up breaking up with his girlfriend and leaving their house in disgrace before he ever actually started writing his amazing novel. Toting his writing crap with him. No doubt to begin all over again in his new apartment, trying to find the perfect spot. Maybe the window? The bedroom? Dining room?

As my old African American pals in Logan Heights used to say: sheeeeeeeeeee-it.

You can sit around reading books all day, too. You can take a million workshops. You can worry. But, really, what you have to do is begin. Begin, and sweat blood. Use the shovel, swing the pick. Suffer, and pray that you endure your suffering. And always, give thanks and praise. That's my advice.

Sometimes, it's fun.

I'm done. May your Easter be perfect. L

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