My copy of Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft is stuffed with post-its. There are exclamation marks on the margins, words and phrases encircled, and smileys scattered among the lines, lines, lines. Her generosity and wisdom have helped us conquer the tyranny of the blank page.
I am also grateful for the advice she shared on narrativemagazine.com:
If my generation of women has defined itself by the struggle between the QWERTY keyboard and the sewing machine, we nevertheless have had, on the whole, lives more varied, more interesting, and more satisfactory than our mothers’. We laugh deep and unforced. We write at midnight if we please.
. . .
[T]he moment of ecstase, ecstasy that comes usually at the end of a period of effortful and perhaps despairing concentration, and yet comes “out of nowhere,” not as an apparent reward but apparently as a gift, that moment stays and is present every time I remember it or reencounter the passage in which it occurred, or reencounter the reluctance that precedes it or the grace as it descends—because this is my only religion, and it is “grace,” and it does seem to “descend”—and these moments accumulate into an awareness of power in the sense of capacity, which cannot be taken from me—except, of course, by dementia or death.
. . .
You have to earn a living somehow, and doing so is honorable, even if your spirit bleeds a little. But when you find yourself as a writer taking on more and more of the tasks that seem not quite true (you know them because they register in the body: your heart sinks half an inch, your stomach makes a quarter turn, there’s a semiquaver in your throat), then it is time to say no and turn to greet the next blank page. Because the core joy of writing, the ecstase, is not in the publication, the review, the prize, or the applause, but in that magic moment when you get outside the bone box of your own mind.