Facing the Abyss

by Elizabeth Cunningham

A twitter friend answered my request for blog topics with these questions (wording approximate): What makes a good writer? What makes for good writing?

A good writer is doubtless sometimes a lousy writer. Writers have bad days, just like everyone else. A good writer persists. A persistent writer faces the blank page day after day, whether on a screen or in a good-old-fashioned notebook. I’ve done both. The awe and terror are the same. The blank page is the freakin’ abyss, the void, the great nothing that contains all. That’s why I named my computer Wu Ji, the beginning posture in Tai Chi Chuan.

So take a breath and make a mess, write the first word, the first page, pages. Pages can be ripped up, backspace and delete can be hit, but you have to actually create your material before you can work with it. And when you’ve honed it and polished it and finished it, your reward is: another blank page. Here are a few scattered thoughts. A good writer is:

always a beginner
a tracker, follows the trail of a story or idea, knows when it’s cold or when it’s challenging
is ruthless, will chuck hours, days, weeks, months of work and start again if necessary
knows when it’s right the first time
is patient and attentive to detail
loves language the way a mechanic loves the engine of a car
is in partnership with work itself, is a co-creator
knows how to listen
delights in being surprised

Blogs are supposed to be short, so I will save the second question for another time. Meanwhile all you writers: Right on, Write on!


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Wild Roaming One (WRO) August 12, 2009 - 9:15 pm

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Anonymous August 21, 2009 - 2:44 pm

Thank you, Elizabeth, for these helpful words. It's nice to imagine, as I sit, cursing away at my own computer, that I am, in fact, in communion with countless other frustrated writers throughout time and space.


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