Why Donald Miller Is Wrong About Writing.
Donald Miller recently wrote a post on writing. I am a fan of the guy and his first book, Blue Like Jazz, had a major impact on me. The rest of his stuff is pretty good, too. He has a real knack for helping people to 'live better stories.' In essence, we can go through life in a mundane way or we can edit our own stories to give them meaning. It's quite simple but resonates with a lot of people. If you take a risk, then you will most likely have a story to tell. So, this post he wrote was about getting feedback from his publisher on his latest book and having to make edits. He said ~
“Then, I’d make one edit only to create a domino effect throughout the rest of the book. I did this a few times before I started to believe the book was a total disaster and would probably never be published.”
I know this feeling. When my own book came back, I felt like the editor had taken my baby and hacked off one of its arms. It is a long process and requires the ability to be open-minded and selfless to the story. Miller's solution was to tell his wife,
“Babe, I’ve got to get a cabin. I’ve got to get my head back in this book and I can’t do it running my usual schedule.”
And that, folks, is where Mr. Miller's and my experience part ways. Miller believes that ~
“ - a book will demand your all. That great line won’t come to you on a schedule (though you should keep one anyway) it will come to you when it wants and you have to be sitting there when it arrives or you’ll miss it. If you’ve got a book brewing, rent a cabin. I know you have kids and a job and can’t afford the luxury and I’m sorry if that’s true because the reality is it probably isn’t true.”
I disagree. I wrote my first book at my kitchen table in a tiny studio apartment as a single dad with alternate custody. I barely had time to do anything, but I made the time. I think the whole myth of getting a cabin romanticizes writing and the escape of it all. Hard work and discipline are far more important than days/weeks out in the sticks. The reality for me was this: get the kids to bed and stare at a screen till the wee hours before getting some sleep, rise early the next morning and fire up the coffee machine to try to pump some life back into me before getting the kids to school, then head off to teach English to a bunch of people who stare back at me like I was a dog that got hit by a car. During the editing process, I'd wake up with ink on my pillow and pens in my bed. I did get a few trail runs in, which kept my sanity and creative juices flowing, but other than that I grabbed every spare moment I could and poured myself into my craft. I love what I do and even as I wait for my book to come out in Autumn, I am constantly mind-mapping and laying the foundation for what I know I will be doing for the rest of my life. The day it feels like a job is the day I'll quit. What Don Miller seems to be saying is to be a legitimate writer, I must be able to afford a cabin in order to “make it.” This is dangerous to all aspiring writers. Does he not remember the day when no one knew who he was? Is this the type of story he wants us to live? Where certain things are only within the reach of the financially well-off? I will leave with this great quote from Anais Nin as I believe writing should be about wringing ourselves out on the page, whether it's in the woods or not.
“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it”