Best Advice

Unbridled Books asked its authors: “What’s the best piece of writing advice you have ever given or received?”

The best advice I ever received about writing bridged the great divide between talk and walk.  It came from a wonderful writer and teacher, Maxine Clair.  Author of October Suite and Rattlebone, Clair’s work has that same quality I admire in Virginia Woolf and Michael Ondaatje: her prose balances on the edge of poetry, her writing cadenced, rich and deep.  

Of course, I didn’t know any of this on that autumn afternoon when I squeezed into her workshop at the last minute, on the last day of a literary conference.  Her classroom felt more like a meditation space than anything else.  She commanded attention with a quiet intensity, a softness that shaped a very different relationship between speaker and audience and, as I would come to understand, between writer and page.

Clair asked us all to imagine a character and answer a long list of questions.  Then she gave us a phrase and asked us to write about the character we had just fleshed out.  I sank into a very deep, relaxed level of concentration.  I don’t know how much time passed, but when she spoke again, I had completed several pages. 

“You don’t need a special pen, a special notebook or place,” she explained.  “And you don’t need enormous blocks of time to write.  Look at what you’ve just written.  It’s all  in you.  Tap into it.”  I wrote her words down.  I typed them up, printed them out, and glued them to the cover of a most ordinary notebook.  This gentle Buddha had just made the impossible, possible.