Writer’s Notebook: Live vs Dead Work

Craig Mod wrote about the death of Louise Glück, and quoted her saying to her students, “Write anything you want. Just make sure it’s not dead“.

I don’t know what qualities of language make a piece alive rather than dead, but I know exactly what Glück meant. Sometimes I read back a piece I’ve written and it has no spark, no energy.

A lot of the time, it comes about because I’m too focussed on an idea of a finished piece without thinking enough about the characters. A lot of the pieces I’ve tried to write for the South Downs Way have ended up like this. I’ve worked and re-worked some of them but they have not come to life.

I’m sure there must be something in the sentence structure that makes a piece come alive; or maybe it’s in the point of view.

Knowing that I tend to overthink ideas and kill them, I’m working more with the text. I’ve started writing more in longhand instead of just on screen. I try to think less about my goal and have more faith that I’ll end up there. Zen archery. I’m cutting down my distractions so I can give each piece more attention.

One of the most interesting things about writing is that what works for one person won’t work for another. Someone else’s methods will likely not work for you. But I am trying new things, and some of them seem to work.

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