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Things I’ve Learned About Writing from Dany Laferrière

February 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Veronica Louis in Authors

by Veronica Louis

Journal d’un ecrivain en pyjama

Book cover: Mance Lanctôt

For my B-Day, this past January, a very close friend of mind gave me Dany Laferrière’s book: The World is Moving Around Me. Beautifully translated by David Homel from the French original Tout bouge autour de moi, the book was about Haiti’s 2010 earthquake recounted by the Haitian author and poet, Dany Laferrière.

I delved quickly into the book, soaking it up as if I was a literature-deprived sponge. The World is Moving Around Me is divided into a number of written snapshots of the earthquake aftermath focused through the eyes of a poet who paints a drab photo with just the right tone and hue of words. Take this passage of the book for example…

Projectiles

A 7.3 magnitude earthquake is not so bad. You still have a chance. Concrete was the killer. The population had joined in an orgy of concrete over the last fifty years. Little fortresses. The wood and sheet-metal houses, more flexible, stood the test. In narrow hotel rooms, the TV set was the enemy. People sit facing it. It came right down on them. Many got hit in the head.

No words are wasted in this book chock full of stark yet beautiful passages that evoke pause for reflection. Every phrase highlights an emotional state.

Recently, I had the privilege to interview Laferrière for an article in Nightlife.ca. Our phone conversation lasted 30 minutes and in that 30 minutes I was awed by this man’s sheer intellect, intuition and uninhibited demeanor. Laferrière knew exactly what he was talking about and his words were carefully constructed and chosen as he spoke in a manner that rang true to me. Furthermore, he exuded this absolute confidence spiked with humility that I figured can only come from all his years of experience as a writer and de facto intellectual.

100,000 Hours of Writing

It is clear that Dany Laferrière is way beyond his 10,000 hours. (Digression: If 10,000 hours makes you an expert at something, what does 50,000 or 100,000 hours make you? An über expert? A genius? A force not to be reckoned with?) A marketing coach of mine once told me that one way to success is to find someone who has what you want and to learn directly from them.

Laferrière made that step easier for me with his brand new spanking book: Journal d’un ecrivain en pyjama (Journal of a Writer in Pyjamas).  This book is jam-packed with valuable advice for writers, from the novice to the expert. It’s more than just a simple guidebook. It’s presented in a unique and certainly poetic way where the narrator shares his take on writing in general while dishing out priceless nuggets of wisdom, tips, advice and reflections. It’s one of those books to be savored at first and then reread and then savored again.

Take this little golden nugget, for example:

When you are racking your brain to describe that the rain is falling, try this: It’s raining.

Laferrière explained that one of the most important advice he had for writers was to read and read and read; however, to read with the perspective of a writer. That is, learning the mechanics behind a good book. Basically, to read with the intention of figuring out what makes the book good.

Laferrière also stressed the importance of overcoming the fear of writing. He says, “Some people tend to be afraid of writing. But we have to write everything that crosses our minds until we’re no longer afraid of writing. They might be afraid of writing because writing has been turned into something sacred, they might be afraid of creating something silly. It’s just like those who are learning a foreign language but are afraid to use the language because they are afraid of making mistakes. It’s an impediment to their learning.”

His solution? “Sometimes we have to write whatever crosses our mind, we shouldn’t write with the idea that every single thing we write has to be important. You’re not always writing a book, you are learning how to write. Meaning, you are learning to develop the confidence of writing, to feel free to write. So, if you’re afraid of writing something wrong, you’re not free yet.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. And with those very wise words from a very wise author, I continue my journey of writing my novel without worrying so much if every line, every page, every chapter is perfectly constructed. I’m letting the words flow and learning not to stifle myself as I write so that my vulnerabilities can come forth and resonate with others. I once wrote that writer’s by definition write, and that is exactly what I intend on keep on doing: writing (even beyond my 10,000 hours), until I’ve ultimately conquered that little part of me who’s afraid of writing anything less than brilliant. And I’m totally up for it!

The World is Moving Around Me
Translated by David Homel | Arsenal Pulp Press

Journal d’un écrivain en pyjama
Mémoire d’encrier

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