Eat your technique.

Several years ago, I read an interview with Tom Robbins in the book On Being A Writer. I used to love Tom Robbins when I was in my early 20s — he was the one who made me appreciate the magic of the metaphor, who showed me how to delight in the possibilities of playfulness and whimsy in language. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was one of my favorite novels at the time.

The advice from the interview is as follows:

First of all, you have to eat your technique. You can’t write technique anymore than you can speak grammar. So, you develop some technique, and then you eat it. Digest it. Eliminate it so it’s a part of yourself; it’s in your blood, but you’re not concerned with it anymore.

And then all you do is, you write a sentence and see where it takes you. You take a trip on the page. You go where the sentences lead you. It’s a journey.

When I first read this advice several years ago, I wasn’t sure what it meant. Since then, I’ve done a gazillion writing exercises to develop “technique,” I’ve amassed many short stories, and I’ve put ten of them together in a collection. I’ve written a novel and a memoir and a good number of essays and blog posts and articles and flash pieces. The cool thing is: I get it now. “Technique.” It’s mine. It’s there, in my blood. I don’t have to think about it. I’ve learned to use the tools to my advantage, like the violin maker learns to use the bridge fitter and the bending iron, like the potter learns to use the wedging table and the wheel. I’ve learned to use the scene and the image, the pacing and the detail… it’s mine, the particular manner in which I use it. I write the sentence; I see where it goes. What follows — the journey — is a trip only I can go on. It’s that unique. That individual. It’s my technique.

So, eat your technique. Digest it. Eliminate it into your blood. Let it sing in your bones while you create in the way that only you can create.

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