In between bouts of reading non-fiction and fiction, I enjoy books by writers on writing. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, and Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer are three of my standard favorites. Ron Carlson's little book of writing advice now joins them on my book shelf. This work of non-fiction reads like fiction because Carlson has written the story of a story. The story is "The Governor's Ball" and Carlson unpacks this story--one sentence, one paragraph, or one conversation at a time--letting  us know exactly how each part came into being. It is a fascinating short story and a fascinating story of the creative mind in action. Here are a few of my favorite parts from Ron Carlson Writes a Story (Graywolf Press, 2007) with some comments from me along the way.

“The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is to stay in the room. The great temptation is to leave the room to celebrate the completion of the sentence or to go out in the den where the television lies like a dormant monster and rest up for a few days for the next sentence or to go wander the seductive possibilities of the kitchen."

GUILTY! I left my desk to make a rhubarb strawberry cobbler from scratch the moment the idea for my book on clouds landed in my lap.

"But. It’s this simple," Carlson continues. "The writer is the person who stays in the room. The writer wants to read what she is in the process of creating with such passion and devotion that she will not leave the room. The writer understands that to stand up from the desk is to fail, and to leave the room is so radical and thorough a failure as to not be reversible. Who is not in the room writing? Everybody. Is it difficult to stay in the room, especially when you are not sure of what you are doing, where you’re going? Yes. It’s impossible. Who can do it? The writer.”

“…I will just say that the Internet is the enemy of the writer’s day. The Internet is a heaping helping of what everyone else is thinking—and right this minute. If you open your e-mail, you are asking to let go of the day. I don’t want to belabor this obvious point, but we have welcomed this convenience right onto the very screens where we are writing stories, and e-mail is not a friend to the writer.”

NOT GUILTY! I have removed Internet connectivity from my laptop, though I do take breaks to use the Internet throughout the day.

“No one among us suffers the radical appreciation for coffee that I do. It calls to me, but I have learned not to listen. All the valuable writing I’ve done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I’ve wanted to leave the room…I look up from the page or the screen and I think, hey, I want some coffee. There’s my cup right there, just like yours, half full of cold coffee, and I’d like a cup of coffee….after I begin to stick it out, to stay in the room, when I did finally close down the section or find a place past the tough going where I could stop, the coffee tasted so much better than it ever had before. It was then that I began to see how good coffee could be.”