Nancy Doherty, Editor and Writer

Offering help and resources for writers, agents, and publishers

When I set up my website three years ago, I planned to start a blog. Took me a while to get around to it. Here it is, folks. My goal is offer a mix of useful resources for writers, editors and readers; pithy quotations on relevant subjects, rants as called for (e.g., how Amazon doth bestride the world like a colossus); reviews of books I’m reading and/or listening to; excerpts of my writing; some photographs; cartoons…and we shall see what else. Infotainment? Maybe a discussion of neologisms, the good, the bad and the ugly. Also serial commas, and AP style vs. Chicago. Oh, yes, there is so much to say and so many other people to link you to! Let me warn you that, like Michel de Montaigne, “I quote others in order to better express myself.”  Most of the others I quote are far wiser and more accomplished than I, which helps.

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To start, since it took me so long to get around to this, here’s what a few writers have to say about getting going. In his 2007 article in Neiman Reports titled “Finding Time to Write,” Stewart O’Nan cites Joseph Conrad’s maxim “that there are only two difficult things about writing: starting and not stopping.” I haven’t been able to trace this back to an actual Conrad quote, but it does neatly wrap up the enchilada.

Most successful writers’ advice tends to boil down to stern variations of “just do it”:

E.B. White: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

E.L. Doctorow: “Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”

Ursula K. LeGuin: “I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you’re writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn’t flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work.”

Jennifer Egan: “Be willing to write really badly. It won’t hurt you to do that. I think there is this fear of writing badly, something primal about it, like: ‘This bad stuff is coming out of me…’ Forget it! Let it float away and the good stuff follows. For me, the bad beginning is just something to build on. It’s no big deal. You have to give yourself permission to do that because you can’t expect to write regularly and always write well. That’s when people get into the habit of waiting for the good moments, and that is where I think writer’s block comes from. Like: It’s not happening. Well, maybe good writing isn’t happening, but let some bad writing happen… When I was writing The Keep, my writing was so terrible. It was God-awful. My working title for that first draft was, A Short Bad Novel. I thought: ‘How can I disappoint?’’’

The Egan quote is part of an article titled “25 Insights on Becoming a Better Writer” by Jocelyn Glei; the other twenty-four insights are also worth a gander.

Doctorow again: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

And even Doctorow took a break now and then:

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Ed Doctorow and Joe McGinniss playing darts, circa 1974. (photo by N. Doherty)

Now for the good news. Charles Bukowski said: “This is very important — to take leisure time. Pace is the essence. Without stopping entirely and doing nothing at all for great periods, you’re gonna lose everything. Whether you’re an actor, anything, a housewife … there has to be great pauses between highs, where you do nothing at all. You just lay on a bed and stare at the ceiling.”

Between staring at the ceiling and just doing it there lies constructive procrastination—not writing but advancing your project or at least expanding your knowledge base (if not your mind). I plan to set up a permanent page of resource links soon but for now, here are a few excellent ones:  offers a mind-boggling collection of every imaginable link an aspiring writer might need, from dictionaries and grammar guides to writing prompts and cures for writer’s block to how to (maybe, someday) get published.  Pat McNees’ site provides a somewhat less sweeping but more curated compendium of online and offline resources for writers and editors than the one above.   Billed as being “about the art and craft of fiction,” Writer Unboxed is chock full of wonderful advice and essays from an impressive array of writers and publishing professionals. Constance Hale, the author of three books about writing, edits this “online salon” about writing, in which she and a number of guest bloggers cover a range of writerly topics as small as the comma and as large as the end of publishing.

That’s it for post number one. Coming next: reviews of books by Ian McEwan, Emma Healey, Amanda Coplin and Edan Lepucki and a discussion of reading books versus listening to them. How different are the experiences? Is one somehow “better” than the other?

5 thoughts on ““Starting and Not Stopping”

  1. Kim Keough says:

    I love you! No, really….I love you! 😊 This is so terrific! : Information Central; A seat in the circle of on-line support; Inspiration; a writer’s room of her own. For all of it, thank you!

  2. Tom Brennan says:

    Great piece, Nancy. I’ll be a regular reader.

  3. Madeleine Blais says:

    How can I make sure I get this every time it comes out. I can already attest to the usefulness and vitality of everything you say, Nancy.

  4. George Scialabba says:

    You forgot to mention all the awesome perks that come with the job!

  5. Congrats Nancy! Hi George!

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