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Writers Talk About Writing

Writing Secrets Revealed by Nature

I like collecting quotes about writing. A while ago, I stumbled across this one attributed to Albert Einstein: "Look deep, deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." How is that a quote about writing, you ask? Let me give you five reasons...

1. Rain will occur at exactly the worst possible time (or won't occur, if you plan for it.) Many years ago one of my sisters was planning her summer wedding. She wanted an outdoor ceremony. My normally mild-mannered mother looked at her in horror and said, "No, I won't allow it. What if it rains?" Mom had a point. We live in Vancouver, the rain capital of the world. You have to plan for the wet stuff, even in summer. Similarly, in my writing, I've also learned to plan for the worst. The reference book I need? It will be unavailable. The person I want to interview? Too busy. The time I've allotted for producing a rough draft? Someone (likely a child) will steal it. My solution is to start early, plan for the worst and be pleasantly surprised if and when the best occurs. My sister proved the case. Her wedding was inside and the weather was gloriously sunny.

2. Day always follows night. I never used to understand fear of the night. Years ago night was my favorite time - not just for partying but also for reading and writing. As I started to age, however, I began to understand the fear — of darkness, of the relentless quiet and of what writer Meg Wolitzer calls "death's dress rehearsal." But guess what? After every night, there is always a day. In writing, we may go through similarly dark periods — when everything we're working on seems staid or dull or uninspired and when the work just seems too hard. Hold the faith. We all go through spots like that. Keep writing and your mood will inevitably brighten.

3. Different plants thrive in different climates. I live in a rainforest. Here, we are surrounded by green. I often don't notice it until I travel to, say, the desert, where brown predominates. When I return home, I almost feel as though I've wandered into a color-saturated picture postcard. (Then it starts raining again and I'm less enthralled.) The plants, too, are completely different. On the wet coast we have ferns and salal and Douglas fir. In the desert, you have agave and cacti and palm trees. But guess what? Writers are just as different! Each of us is born with a natural aptitude for some aspect of writing. You may be good at description. Or telling stories. Or writing short, concrete sentences. We all have our natural strengths. Make sure you recognize yours, and play to them.

4. You will always have dandelions. I don't know about you, but I loathe dandelions. When we were rebuilding our house and living in a rental a few years ago, our front and back yards were a sea of yellow flowers. The previous tenants hadn't taken care of the garden so I went out every day to behead the yellow tops (to prevent the seed heads from forming) and to dig up as many by the root as I could. Somehow they kept coming back. Did that stop me? No way! Writing is much the same. No matter how hard I try, I still write infelicitous phrases and clunky sentences. That doesn't make me a bad writer. It simply means I have to edit, like everyone else in the world. No one writes a perfect first draft. We all have to pull our own dandelions, every day.

5. Flowers will bloom in the oddest places. Surely you've seen photos of plants growing in concrete or rocks. They always make me think of the Dylan Thomas poem, "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower." The impetus of a flower to grow through stone never fails to impress. In a similar fashion, I know that I can write even when I don't feel like it. With the students I coach, I encourage them to keep a writing diary in which they track three things:

  • the amount of time they write each day,
  • the number of words they produce and, most importantly,
  • their feelings about their writing that day.

Do you know what we always discover? Feelings are irrelevant. Students can still produce 350 to 500 words in 30 minutes even on days they're feeling crummy and completely uninspired.

You, too, can grow flowers through stone.

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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday September 12th 2012, 11:02 AM
Comment by: Rae (Titusville, FL)
In Writing Secrets Revealed by Nature, Daphne Gray-Grant tells some good secrets about writing and nature. Most of all she is very encouraging to a writer like me who loves to know how others writers think and write. It's nice to know you can write even when you feel crummy. I suppose it can turn out to be very good writing, too. I just write and write and I have finally come to a place, I hope I'll stay here, where it's almost always a pleasure because I have evolved away from a lot of the fears I had before.
Wednesday September 12th 2012, 8:39 PM
Comment by: Marie (GA)
I have always enjoyed Daphne's writing, her simplicity, and her originality. Thank you Daphne. I will remember to look deep into nature and know that there I will find understanding in whatever I am doing.
Thursday September 13th 2012, 9:55 AM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Thanks for your kind words, Rae and Marie.

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