Arsenault's tips enliven Lifebeat

Speaking of local literary life, ProJo scribe Mark Arsenault's occasional writing column, The Mystery of Writing, is a welcome addition to the Lifebeat section, which often can otherwise be digested in under 90 seconds.

Mark, an excellent reporter, knows a thing or two about writing, having published several mystery novels (I profiled him last year), and his pleasantly laconic sense of humor -- as well as some useful advice -- comes out in his column. While many people aspire to write, he knows that it ultimately and mostly comes down to steadily putting in the effort -- a process he dubs "mind over ass."

Here's a sample from what Mark had to say yesterday:

No writer’s method is right for everybody, but every writer does something that a person new to the craft would find helpful. With that in mind, I have assembled some rules to write by. They work for me. Maybe one of them will work for you.

I call this 9-point essay: “The Way I Write — Not That I Recommend It.”

1. Have low standards.

Real low. The lower, the better. I come to fiction from journalism, so I have none of the poetic notions of writing. I don’t believe in a muse who sprinkles the dust of inspiration at odd moments. I am the muse. Inspiration is what happens after I sit down to write. I don’t believe in fictional characters surprising me and taking over my story. I am the characters. That’s not romantic. But on the plus side, I don’t believe in writer’s block. In journalism, there’s no time for it. When it’s time to write, you sit down and type.

Daily journalism is a great teacher; it forces writers to write within limitations — you might have two hours to write a news story, and it cannot be longer than, say, 20 or 30 inches of type. If you want to eat this week, you do it.

In fiction, the limitation is not time or length, but standards. People get blocked when they can’t think of anything good enough to write.

No problem.

Just lower the standards.

Still can’t write?

Go lower.

At some point, before you reach finger painting, you’ll write something. Then go back later and fix it.

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