June 8, 2010

She Is So Well-developed

I’ve been thinking lately about how being an established literary writer means being well-developed. In so many ways.

First of all, the writer needs to be well-seasoned. They say it takes 10 years to master the craft (as I talked about in this post). That means, if you decide very young to be a writer and really apply yourself, you can “master your craft” ~ or at least have a good handle on it ~ by the time you’re in your midtwenties. However, if you’re late to the party, like me, you’ll be much older before you get a handle on things, plus get your name out there.

So, too, you need to develop your network. Because writing is so subjective, especially after you’ve reached a certain level, getting published and developing a readership has a lot to do with familiarity ~ getting your stuff out there as much as possible, having a website, going to conferences, getting an MFA, being a good friend. I imagine some people call it nepotism, but hey that’s the way the world works, so we might as well get good at it.

A writer needs a well-developed reading ability too. I remember the first time I read literature as a writer, rather than a critic. It was like a thunderbolt from the blue. We need to have our critical faculties and vocabularies developed so we can see how other writers do things and try to follow that. In fact, often our critical faculties outstrip our writing abilities, so that we can see what we’re writing is bad but we don’t know how to fix it ~ as Ira Glass says so well here.

Also, each piece needs to be well-developed. How many times have you been in a workshop with someone who seems to know a lot and, hey, she or he got into this prestigious place, but what you read really isn’t up to snuff. Well, it is workshop, so we’re supposed to be working on things that need help, but you wonder is this all this person can do? Are they good enough to be in here?

(But, then, aren’t you a little jealous of those people who bring in something that’s perfect, that’s obviously been worked over and over, and they let it drop that it’s the fourth or fifth time they’ve workshopped it? You wonder whether they’re just chicken and can’t take the criticism and only want accolades. Ah, the perverse writer-reader.)

Each piece needs to have a richness that’s usually only achieved after deep thought, which usually takes time and effort. Some people can achieve it in a week, but it takes others months of rewriting, putting it aside, and rewriting again. It also depends on the piece.

I think the takeaway from all this is that we just have to keep trying, never give up, never say die. Go forth, and write your heart out.

What I’m Reading Today: The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40. Manna from heaven.

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