There is no end to advice from writers about writing. I agree with those who say that the best way to learn how to write is to write. And I agree that much advice from writers may apply to their writing, but not to everyone's. However, occasionally I read a few sentences that seem to ring true universally. Whenever I find more than one writer that I respect saying the same thing, I take notice. And when those writers are in agreement with something I've written about writing, something that I attempt to do in my own writing, no matter how well, or how poorly I'm currently doing it, I think it's important enough to share. Richard Hugo and Verlyn Klinkenborg have done just that.
Here’s a passage in an essay by Richard Hugo entitled “Writing off the Subject” from his collection, The Triggering Town:
A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject,
which starts the poem or “causes” the poem to be written, and the real or
generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is
generated or discovered in the poem during the writing. That’s not quite
right because it suggests that the poet recognizes the real subject.
The poet may not be aware of what the real subject is but only have
some instinctive feeling that the poem is done.
Young poets find it difficult to free themselves from the initiating subject.
The poet puts down the title: “Autumn Rain.” He finds two or three good
lines about Autumn Rain. Then things start to break down. He cannot find
anything more to say about Autumn Rain so he starts making up things,
he strains, he goes abstract, he starts telling us the meaning of what he
has already said. The mistake he is making, of course, is that he feels
obligated to go on talking about Autumn Rain, because that, he feels,
is the subject. Well, it isn’t the subject. [Bold font is mine.] You don’t
know what the subject is, and the moment you run out of things to say
about Autumn Rain start talking about something else. In fact, its a
good idea to talk about something else before you run out of things to
say about Autumn Rain.
Don’t be afraid to jump ahead. There are a few people who become more
interesting the longer they stay on a single subject. But most people are
like me, I find. The longer they talk about one subject, the duller they get.
Make the subject of the next sentence different from the subject of the
sentence you just put down. Depend on rhythm, tonality, and the music
of language to hold things together. It is impossible to write meaningless
sequences. In a sense the next thing always belongs. In the world of
imagination, all things belong. [Bold is mine again.] If you take that on
faith, you may be foolish, but foolish like a trout.
And here’s a passage from Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several short sentences about writing:
You have no idea what you’re going to say
Until you discover what you want to say
As you make the sentences that say it.
Every sentence is optional until it proves otherwise.
Writing is the work of discovery.
The piece you’re writing is about what you find in the
piece you’re writing.
No matter how factual, how nonfictional, how pur-
poseful a piece is.
Sooner or later, you’ll become more interested in what
you’re able to say on the page and less interested in
You’ll rely less on the priority of your intentions and
more on the immediacy of writing.
It may sound as if I’m describing a formless sort or
Not at all.
Form is discovery too.
It’s perfectly possible to write this way even when con-
A narrow subject, a small space, and a tight deadline.
Finally, here is the link to my article, “Why I Write: Discovery Vs. Self-Expression"
Here's to all of us writers, as we seek to discover the writing within the writing.