I was talking to a friend last week about how hard it was to find good writing advice online. We were sitting in a restaurant that was temporarily pretending to be a coworking space, our feet propped up on carved bar stools as we chomped ginger chews and swigged endless cups of mint tea and battered our poor keyboards to death. The freelance life. I had been searching for some very specific information related to the publishing industry, but -- despite being able to find any friend's random love interest on social media in thirty seconds flat based on a first name alone -- had, in this case, surfaced from the depths of Google empty-handed.
The problem was not that there was no writing advice, but that there was too much of it, and it tended to be neither precise nor informed. A lot of it was either bare-bones factual (useful to an extent, but lacking in color) or embroidered rumor (useful in increasing anxiety levels, but not in teaching me what I needed to know). I am not being coy when I say that these pieces of writing advice must be useful to other people. After all, they ended up on the first couple pages of search results somehow!* But for various reasons that maybe I will tell you if you buy me a glass of Pinot or retweet my website, they were not useful to me and the way that I think about writing.
So I thought it would be nice to start a place to collate some thoughts about writing -- mine and others' -- as a way of working through some of my own questions about the craft and industry, while also hopefully sharing some useful information.
What makes me think I have anything useful to say about writing? Honestly, I'm not sure. I do teach creative writing and literature. I think a lot about form and structure and literary history, both from creative and critical perspectives. I love writing and I love helping my students become better writers, because OMG the world needs better writers. But I also have this worry, which I think many women share, that I shouldn't speak until I know I have something to say. A fear that whatever I have to say is useless. This is a fear I want to move past, so I guess I have to tackle the fear the only way I know how: by writing through it.
The title "Uncover the Bones" is a paraphrase of Stephen King in his book ON WRITING, one of the books whose writing advice I find very useful, because King and I share an appreciation for the declarative and prescriptive. Anyway, he writes:
Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground ... Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.
Your job, as a writer, is to uncover those fossils, chipping away at the crud around them until you have the beautiful, streamlined thing.
This is perhaps the best metaphor for writing -- seconded by Ann Patchett's metaphor about the butterfly, which I'll talk about another time -- that I've ever read. It is both specific and capacious. It emphasizes work, but also magic, because art is magic. Magic that you've sweated through; pit-stained, deodorant-breaking magic... but magic all the same.
* I don't actually know how Google search results work at all, and I am okay with that.