At last! An answer to a question absolutely no writer ever asks about writing cuz when you get down to it, getting agents and gigs and stuff doesn’t have much to do with “good writing” at all.
Of course, it would help if we all agreed on a definition for that term. But….
by Oliver Burkeman
! first encountered Robert Boice’s name about three years ago, somewhere online; after that, it started popping up every other month. Boice, I learned, was a US psychologist who’d cracked the secret of how to write painlessly and productively. Years ago, he’d recorded this wisdom in a book, now out of print, which a handful of fans discussed in reverent tones, but with a title that seemed like a deliberate bid for obscurity: How Writers Journey To Comfort And Fluency. Also, it was absurdly expensive: used copies sold for £130. Still, I’m a sucker for writing advice, especially when so closely guarded. So this month, I succumbed: I found a copy at the saner (if still eye-watering) price of £68, and a plain green print-on-demand hardback arrived in the post. So if you hunger to write more, but instead find yourself procrastinating, or stifled by panic, or writer’s block, I can reveal that the solution to your troubles is…
Look, you knew this would be anticlimactic, didn’t you? The kernel of Boice’s advice, based on writing workshops conducted with struggling academics, isn’t merely old. It’s the oldest in the world: write, every weekday, in brief scheduled sessions, as short as 10 minutes at first, then getting longer. Reading that, I nearly flung my £68 book across the room in impatience. But that wouldn’t surprise Boice. Because impatience, for him, is a huge part of why writing causes so much grief.
His students, he explains, tell him they can’t afford to limit their writing to short sessions, or try his other exercises: they’ve got deadlines to meet! But that proves the point. They want to have already written – and it’s precisely that manic urgency that triggers panic and procrastination. As I kept reading, a realisation dawned: the non-excitingness of Boice’s book – from its title to his step-by-step advice, which you’re meant to implement gradually, over months – is itself an exercise in cultivating patience. It’s slow going because slow is the only way forward….