The Hard Work

A writing tip from Steve Edwards

Your job as a writer is to find the story only you can tell and tell it. Simple enough. There are things that will get in your way: how to craft a sentence that doesn’t distract a reader with its clumsiness or its over-abundant grace; and how to master punctuation for nuance and effect; and how to lay claim to the minor disturbances of spelling, verisimilitude, a plot’s logical progression. You may have to overcome, as I did, a reading deficiency compliments of a mediocre high school education and an addiction to television. You may have to kill your television. With daily practice, your sentences will start to hear the music of your story and dance accordingly.

Punctuation? You’ve got this. Plot? It’s just an extension of your characters, who they are, what they want, what they’re willing to love, lose and risk. Simple. Now. What if the value of this activity is something no one else in the world, mother-father-sister-brother-lover-friend, will ever understand? What if you have to hack it out alone? What if your heart is too tender? If your characters are going to live on the page, you have to give them the things Life has given to you in such glad abundance. You may also have to take things away.

This is the hard work of writing, not spelling and punctuation, not trying to get published, but believing enough in your own imagination to care about people who are made of nothing but words.

Steve Edwards lives with his wife and son in Massachusetts, where he teaches at Fitchburg State University. His memoir, Breaking Into the Backcountry, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2010. His fiction can be found in AGNI Online, Electric Literature No. 6 and The Fiddleback.

In 2001 Steve Edwards won a writing contest. The prize was seven months of “unparalleled solitude” as the caretaker of a ninety-two-acre backcountry homestead along the Rogue National Wild and Scenic River in southwestern Oregon. Young, recently divorced, and humbled by the prospect of so much time alone, he left behind his job as a college English teacher in Indiana and headed west for a remote but comfortable cabin in the rugged Klamath Mountains.

Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

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