The Runaway Writer

Writing can be frustrating. As a writer, you know it can.

You’ve written 70,000 words, but you only like eight of them.

You did what you were supposed to do and got your protagonist into a messy situation, but now you can’t get her out without resorting to the god of the machine.

You just realized that your entire premise was based on the fact that Pluto was a planet, and now you see the fatal error in your ways.

If you’re like I am right now, you’ve been sitting in the coffee shop for just three hours, and already your eyelids have anchors tied to them. (Curse you, afternoon wall!)

All of this makes you just want to get up from your desk or couch and get out, get away, run away.

That’s exactly what Joyce Carol Oates would do.

In her book of essays, The Faith of a Writer, Oates explains part of her relationship with running:

“The structural problems I set for myself in writing, in a long, snarled, frustrating and sometimes despairing morning of work, for instance, I can usually unsnarl by running in the afternoon. On days when I can’t run. . . . the writing remains snarled in endless revisions.”

“Both running and writing are highly addictive activities; both are, for me, inextricably bound up with consciousness.”

“I find myself running in a place so intriguing to me, amid houses, or the backs of houses, so mysterious, I’m fated to write about these sights, to bring them to life (as it’s said) in fiction.”

“Running seems to allow me, ideally, an expanded consciousness in which I can envision what I’m writing as a film or a dream.”

So, if you’ve never been much of a runner, give it a try. Walk, bike, skip, or jump. Whatever motion or movement conjures your genii, do it often. Do it now.

How do you reenergize yourself for writing?

The Joyce Carol Oates Guide to Writing Your Heart Out


You can be a young writer at any age. It’s about how long you’ve been writing, or how much you’ve been writing.

I guess that’s why Joyce Carol Oates’s chapter, “To a Young Writer,” could help anyone, even non-writers.

The first line and the refrain is of course Write your heart out. But there’s more…

Now I present to you Oates’s advice in a much distilled version.

1. “never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject”

2. “your struggle with your buried self, or selves, yields your art”

3. “don’t be discouraged!”

4. don’t compare yourself to others

5. “writing is not a race”

6. “the satisfaction is in the effort and rarely in the rewards”

7. there might not be any rewards

8. “read widely, and without apology”

9. “read what you want to read, not what someone tells you to”

10. “you may be trying to please someone who won’t be pleased , and who isn’t worth pleasing”

11. if you’re too afraid to “write your heart out,” use a pseudonym

12. use your real name if you want a professional career that involves teaching, lectures, readings, etc.

13. don’t expect to be treated justly or mercifully

14. don’t live life just to write about it

15. “give yourself up in admiration or adoration of another’s art”

16. “don’t be ashamed of being an idealist, of being a romantic and ‘yearning.’”

17. “the first sentence can’t be written until the last sentence has been written”

18. “only have faith”

Go forth and write your heart out.