Anyone who writes cannot help grappling with a basic conflict. Locked away in your skull are all these incredible visions—elephants skateboarding on toast, dancing rabbi babies, lemon-ball-shitting vultures—which somehow have to be siphoned out of your brain and put down on paper in such a way that anyone who sees it will be compelled to drop everything to finish it. Artists work with paint, sculptors stone, musicians sound. Writers suck out their own brain matter and smear it on paper. The more you smear, the less you have, unless you replenish it somehow. But how to do it?
I just stole that from someone else, by the way. Years ago, when I was still working in New York and unknowingly struggling with this issue, a friend turned me on to an essay by Michael Ventura called The Talent of the Room. In a nutshell, Ventura said that all you need to succeed as a writer is the ability to sit in a room by yourself for hours a day, writing. And even if you could do this, you’d produce words but no guarantee of success.
I’ve read tons of books on writing, but none of them have ever come close to the wisdom in this short, punchy essay.
Ventura wrote the piece for LA Weekly. (The friend who sent it to me was living in California at the time and clipped it out of the paper.) Ventura later expanded his ideas into three columns on writing, but I’ve only seen the first and third. The first is best. For years, whenever I moved, I always made sure that I packed that column with me. Then they invented the Internet, and now you can read it at Ventura’s site.