Bad Advice Wednesday: UCLA Q and A, with Rona Elliot

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Virtual Bill


Recently writer and professor Shawna Kenney invited me to take part in an online class at the UCLA Extension Writers Program, visiting virtually by way of Blackboard.  Students asked questions, I did my best to answer, and discussion ensued.  I got permission from a number of students to use their questions, and I got permission from myself to use my answers.   Today my interlocutor is Rona Elliot.

Hi Bill, thanks for doing this with our class and Shawna. Here’s what I’m curious about:

1.  When you are writing and you get into a real groove, or it’s happening and you KNOW it…how do you recognize when you are really in the flow; and, if that’s how it is for you, how long did it take you to recognize when you’re in that state

2.  In your case, is there a technique you’ve developed to get you in a particular writing groove, or does it happen naturally?

3.  Have you come to rely on your creativity, or you know it’s dependable and you can count on it.  If so, can you elaborate on how you learned to rely or trust it in a consistent way

4.  What do you do when you write something or go down a certain path and you think — well, this is just wrong.  Do you toss it and go in a different direction, or do you try to course correct in the direction you were going in?

5.  What do you experience personally, after you write something, that you can say “oh, that’s great, that’s it! ”  Is it ever good enough?

Thanks so much.  Rona Elliot


Hi Rona.  By the numbers:

1.  I think I don’t actually notice I’m in the groove, I’m just in it.  Athletes call it the zone.  You’re just doing it.  Later I might realize it.  While I’m in it, I am in a state of being and don’t even notice the doing.  The way to achieve this is practice, having a practice, writing every day no matter what, reporting for duty, being there when the luck arrives.

2. It’s natural, and it happens without my trying, but only if I’ve tried.  Often, I have to sit through several hours of not much happening to get a few minutes of inspiration.  Sometimes one sentence.  And that launches the next big day.

3.  Yes, it’s reliable.  It takes a lot of years.  A lot.  And then one day you realize it’s in you.  And you know a bad day is just a bad day, and that the good days only come because you’ve been through the bad.  That is, the bad days are good because they’re necessary for the good.  So enjoy them.

4.  I don’t always know it’s wrong.  Later, in revision, I can throw away dozens or even hundreds of pages without regret–again, the good pages couldn’t exisit without the path that brought me to them.  If I know I’m going the wrong direction, it’s not much different that taking a trip in the car.  You don’t just keep going.  You turn around.  You ask directions.  You light the car on fire and run into the woods.  But you don’t just keep going.

5.  It’s only working if you’re enjoying the making.  Maybe like cooking a little.  You have fun making the meal, serving it, eating it.  If it’s great, you remember it fondly, but you don’t go back and cook it again.  If it’s terrible, you go on to the next.  Because you can’t stop eating.  And anything could always be better.  But you know some great meals are coming.  Okay, no, it’s never good enough.  Because that’s the day you stop.

  1. monica wood writes:

    Amen, brother. xo