Finding the Proper Material (And Writing at Red Lights)

I’ve read all the books on fiction writing at my local public library. Granted, about two row-sections amounting to maybe 15 books (If I’m generous) is not much to brag about. But it does make my search-for-a-great-non-fiction-on-how-to-write-great-fiction a bit more… complicated.

Yesterday, I ran over to those shelves (O! Beloved Section 808.2! Yaroo!) and scanned the titles, hoping they’d acquired something new in the two years I’d neglected it. “Show, Don’t Tell!” “The First Five Pages” “How NOT To Write a Novel” “No Plot? No Problem?” Nothing new. I smiled and pulled out Ariel Gore’s “How to Become  Famous Writer Before You’re Dead,” an old favorite. Charming? Funny? Unconventional? Yes to all. I love this book…

This book is where I first came across quotes like Gertrude Stein’s, “Forget grammar and think about potatoes.” It’s where I was first introduced to self-publishing—the scary process of marketing your own writing instead of pining for months in hope of an Agent in Shiny Armor. It’s where I first heard of NaNoWriMo. This book talks about writing when you’re homeless, writing when you’re driving—writing at all, because you will never Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead if you never write.

(Small Aside: Yes, I do realize the irony of reading a book about becoming a famous writer… that was written by a writer I’ve never heard of.)

I know I can’t really count it as my Official NonFic, but I’m reading it over again. Ariel Gore (Erm, I feel weird, calling her just “Gore.” Sorry AP Style, but I’m sticking with Ariel.) Anyway, Ariel has the book divided into, like, hundreds of tiny chapter-thingies, and I might occasionally post on one I find helpful/funny/inspiring.

Like today, with her portion on driving:

“I write while I’m driving. This is probably rather dangerous. Worse than being on a cell phone, really. But I try to be careful. I write in my head and then I speak it out loud so I won’t forget and then I jot it down at red lights.

“This is why I do not take the freeway.

“I learned to write while driving when my daughter was small and her car seat provided the only respite before sleep. Later she got a plastic car and tooled around our concrete backyard muttering half-lines of poetry as she turned the wheel because she understood that this was how you drive—you mutter and then you write at red lights. I don’t even look down at the notebook in my lap as I scribble, because if I do, the person behind me inevitably starts raging on his horn when the signal turns green and I don’t budge. I keep my eye on the signal, hoping it will stay red just a little bit longer, and I write in a shorthand that’s part English, part Chinese, part random symbolism. Arrows and circles and plus signs and ankhs and a cursive that would make my third-grade penmanship teacher weep serve as my first draft. It’s pretty hard to decipher when I get home, but I do the best I can.”

Not that, of course, I’m suggesting it…


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