The Heart and Craft of Writing

Lesson 15/15 - Prioritize Your Writing. No One Else Will


The Heart and Craft of Writing


Lesson Info

Prioritize Your Writing. No One Else Will

This is very important. I mean, unless you're married to like my sister who is amazing, and like makes her husband write, like made a little office for him in the laundry room, and is like, "You're being weird, you need to go write." But, we don't all have partners that do that. (laughs) You know, there's a million reasons why not to write. You know? I mean in general, or just like, tonight. There's a million reasons for you not to work on your book tonight. You wanna watch TV, you wanna go to the gym, you wanna lay around on your phone. Our phones, oh my god, will anyone ever write a book ever again? Like, all we're gonna do is look at our phones. You really, it's just, there's kind of no excuse, you know? I've written books in, or I've done my writing in all kinds of crazy situations. I've written on buses, I've written sitting on the juke box at a bar, I've written on the clock at work in a sneaky way. It's like, it's really up to you to figure out how to make it happen. And to try ...

to convince the people around you that it, to really leave you alone. And sometimes they just won't get it. Like, my wife really respects me as a writer and that I am writing, but she still doesn't fully understand that when I'm home writing, I actually can't come out and like help her open a jar, you know? That is stuck, you know whatever little thing. So, it's really on us. And it can be a heavy load because we have... We're, half the time we're like, is this important? Do I matter? Am I a writer? It's really important to get practice being like, yes I'm a writer, so that means I need time to write, and you need to leave me alone, and I can't go out with you guys tonight even though it's gonna be so much fun. I have to work on my book. You will always be more... People will wanna hang out with you more after your book is published. So don't worry about (audience laughs) saying no to hang out, like, it's just gonna make you look really mysterious to your friends and cool like, "She can't come out, she's working on her novel." You know? Like, that's very cool. You don't really need to go to the gym because you're a writer, and we don't need to look good. (audience laughs) Like, we're not models, like, we can just look however we want. So, enjoy that and work on your writing instead. If you really feel like you don't have time, make a little time journal for yourself, and how are you really spending your time? You know, do you get up and read a paper, or look at your phone? You know, what are you doing at lunch? Are you having lunch with your coworkers and gabbing? What are you doing at night? You're watching Black Mirror? Like, there's just things that you can cut out of your day and give yourself a little bit of time to write. And you will be so thankful and grateful to yourself for doing that when you have finished your book. You'll be psyched. This guy is a creep and a jerk. Charles Bukowski, (audience laughs) he is totally a terrible person. I wouldn't really necessarily recommend anyone reading him. But, he was insanely prolific, and he did write a lot of really beautiful pieces about being a human and being a writer. And I want to close with his poem, "Air and light and space and time." Which, I feel like really sums up kind of a lot of what I was just saying. Which is: "You know I've either had a family, a job, "something has always been in the way. "But now I've sold my house, I've found this place. "A large studio, you should see the space and the light. "For the first time in my life I'm going to have a place "and the time to create. "No baby, if you're going to create, "you're going to create whether you work 16 hours a day "in a coal mine, or you're going to create in a small room "with three children while you're on welfare. "You're going to create with part of your mind and your "body blown away. "You're going to create blind, crippled, demented. "You're going to create with a cat crawling up your back "while the whole city trembles in earthquake, "bombardment, flood, and fire. "Baby, air and light and time and space have nothing to do "with it, and don't create anything, "except maybe a longer life to find new excuses for." Hard ass, right? Tough love from Charles Bukowski to you, tough alcoholic love for you. (audience laughs) So yeah, that is, that's what I have for you guys today. I think we have a little time for questions, if anyone would like to, let's... Bye, Charles. (audience laughs) Let's put that over there instead. That's where you can find me. (laughs) You can't find Charles there. Questions from our studio. Any questions on any of the millions of things I touched upon or anything I didn't touch upon? That you guys would like to know about? Yes? So I don't know if this is a question, just more me processing. So I really struggle with that, kinda the five senses thing. And trying to figure out how much do I do it in the writing process, versus in the editing process. And, so do you have any thoughts about that? Like do you go through the five senses in your first draft, when you're doing it, how do you do it in a way that keeps you in flow versus going into the...? Right. I do try to keep my, keep it in mind while I'm working. Like, if I hit a little bump, like while I'm creating that first draft, sometimes. Or if I feel like I'm stalling out a little bit, I'll buy myself a little time by bringing in the five senses and being like okay, well what's happening here? What can we do? You know, can that bring in anything? And I do it while I'm editing. Like sometimes, I'll be running through it and I'll find this scene that feels sort of cold, or it needs more. And so you can insert it. So, yeah, I mean you don't wanna let it take you out of your flow, so just know, it sounds like you already have an awareness that that is a place of challenge for you. So you can work on it in your editing. You know, if like you're working on a chapter and you're like, oh I didn't really talk about what the room looks like that they're in, or you know, what does the light look like? Things like that. Yeah, I would say both, yeah. I have a question. Yeah. From online, the title of the course is The Heart and Craft of Writing. So for you, how much of writing is heart, and how much is craft? That's a great question. I feel like it has changed for me through my writing. I think when I started it was like all heart, and then the more I did it the more craft came into it, and continues to come into it. I mean, I always am hoping that I'm growing as a writer, and I always hope my last book is better than the one that came before it. But I think that you can start with a lot of heart, and not a lot of craft, and still create something that is interesting and powerful. And also a lot of that craft can be inserted during the editing process, too, you know? A lot of that craft is just learning how to get your point across with more clarity. You might learn, you know, when you sit down and look at your work, like, I've learned this about myself again and again. It's like I take the most convoluted route to get my point across. I'm always shocked that I haven't figured out, it's just something innate in me. So I will always have to go back and restructure sentences to make them less convoluted. So, you know, and that's craft, right? I've learned how to do that. But, the heart is that impulse and that passion that we have as writers to say something, to tell a story. And I feel like if you have that, you don't have to worry about craft. Craft is cumulative. You know, the more you do it, you guys are here, the more you listen to writers talk about their process. I learn so much from listening to other writers talk about their process. Even if their process is so different than mine. Like, it gives me different ideas. It gives me like a respect for writing in general that we can all have such different processes, and all come out with the work at the end of it. It's so interesting. So, yes? I know you said that you didn't go through a lot of like, traditional education and you started your own community of people, which meant you kind of had to encourage other people who might not have gone through the same like, kind of path. So maybe some tips on how to kind of keep motivated if you don't have kind of the more structured ways of validating yourself. Like you're not putting stuff out there and getting it published, or getting a professor to edit, or you know, things like that to keep you motivated and keep people around you motivated, suggestions? Yeah. I mean, the more that you can do in your community to kind of create spaces and places for people to come together and share work, you know? I had a friend who was doing a literary salon at her house where she would just invite some writers, and we would all bring what we're working on and you know, read little pieces out loud. And, you know, and you can determine the rules of that. Like, do you want critical feedback? Or do you just want like, yeah! You know, like maybe you just wanna be like awesome, keep going, thanks for sharing that. You can do that, you can start an open mic at a bookstore or any place. You know, and any kind of place can, coffee houses are often open to the things like that, bars will do things like that. You could have a reading series. Reading series are wonderful, where you just invite, you can do it every month, and you invite like three readers to come and read something, you know? And these things are self-perpetuating. Like when these events happen like, excitement grows around them and it gets people excited about writing, and they'll create more events. And you can just watch like a real kind of literary scene grow up and around certain events. So you know, I'd say the very least, meet with friends at a coffee shop and share your work with each other. You know, if like, if that's all you can do that can still go a long way towards feeling like you're not in a bubble or a vacuum all alone working on this, you know? Anything that you can do. I mean, I started, when I started I would you know, make little zines, or chapbooks, like at a copy shop of my poems and like, trade them with people, or hand them out, or sell them for a dollar after a reading. And that was... And other people were doing that and I was buying theirs, and it was this great little economy in a way, for us all to validate ourselves. Like, look I wrote a book, I mean I made it myself, but it's a book, you know? And that feels really good. So, really see what you're able to accomplish yourself, and to me, that really kept me going because I didn't have any connections to a publishing industry. And I really didn't think I would ever have a book published. And I just felt like as long as I knew I could do something with my work, you know, even just bringing it out to other people and having this community that really kept me going for a little while.

Class Description

If you’ve embarked on the process of writing your first book, there’s a good chance that you’re struggling a bit. Books are big, unwieldy creatures, and even the bravest of among us can feel overwhelmed by the thought of filling all those hundreds of blank pages with intelligent, effervescent words.

Award-winning author, editor and teacher Michelle Tea offers this class to help you believe in your abilities as a writer, stick to your goal and push through that first draft. She’ll outline some of the key tricks to writing a great book and inspire you to produce the vibrant, sparkling and unique work that’s inside your head and waiting to come out.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Be specific and avoid vagueness.
  • Bring your five senses to your writing by including sound, light, scent, texture and taste in every scene.
  • Find your pacing: write slow, write strong.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Build your unique voice and create a shelf of voices you wish your voice to be in conversation with.
  • Keep your editing brain away from your creative brain.



What a wonderful class! Michelle is knowledgeable, authentic, generous and open-hearted with her experience and advice. She offers a genuine sense of validation and practical tips for new writers. I especially liked her thoughts on how to carve out a space for your writing.

Irene Richards