Learning to write from the birds

6 marey birdLast night I was sitting in my office looking out the window at the darkening sky when a crow flew past. I watched him go on his birdy way, and it struck me that lately I had been spending a disproportionate amount of time on pointless stuff.

What is pointless? To a writer, it’s anything that isn’t writing.

Writer David Mitchell says in an interview:

“Writing describes a range of activities, like farming. Plowing virgin fields—writing new scenes—demands freshness, but there’s also polishing to be done, fact-checking, character-autobiography writing, realigning the text after you’ve made a late decision that affects earlier passages—that kind of work can be done in the fifth, sixth, and seventh hours. Sometimes, at any hour, you can receive a gift—something that’s really tight and animate and so interesting that I forget the time…”

[Source: Paris Review interview by Adam Begley]

Note that there’s no wankery in Mitchell’s examples, no pointlessness. Some of the things we think matter to writing, really don’t.

Birds don’t read other birds’ blogs about how to be a bird. They don’t bookmark webpages explaining how to fly, or tweet about their birdiness (well they do, but not with a device). They don’t read about how to market being a bird. The only platform birds build is a nest to support themselves and to support the birth and growth of baby birds.

In writing, three things matter:

  • Reading with an eye to tricks you can use
  • Thinking about your writing project
  • Writing

It’s a short list. I don’t even put Learning on it, because taking courses and conferences and workshops can help, but they are not your main tasks.

Now stop reading this and go read, think, and write.

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