3 Tips for Writers
As many of you have, I read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders when it came out and it's haunted me ever since. It made me rethink the novel I'm working on right now, in a certain way. It reminded me to be daring. It's been great to read the interviews and features by him, and in particular the piece he wrote in The Guardian, “What Writers Really Do When They Write.” I was especially drawn to his fourth point, because I remember Greg Hollingshead telling his students (I was one of them), to write to your best possible reader, and to be generous to that reader. Be respectful. George Saunders talks about a reader who might work at Walmart. I love the way he puts this:
“This is a hopeful notion, because it implies that our minds are built on common architecture – that whatever is present in me might also be present in you. “I” might be a 19th-century Russian count, “you” a part-time Walmart clerk in 2017, in Boise, Idaho, but when you start crying at the end of my (Tolstoy’s) story “Master and Man”, you have proved that we have something in common, communicable across language and miles and time, and despite the fact that one of us is dead.
Another reason you’re crying: you’ve just realised that Tolstoy thought well of you – he believed that his own notions about life here on earth would be discernible to you, and would move you.
Tolstoy imagined you generously, you rose to the occasion.”
TIP 1: Write to your best possible reader and write to them with a generous spirit. Think well of your reader.
I'm still dealing with the fact that C.D. Wright is no longer with us. I came to her work later than I should have. It's not that I hadn't read any of her work. I'd read her poems, and I liked some of them. But I wasn't ready to have them sink into me yet. Well, now they have, and one can only wish for more, which is futile.
I like her prose work on poetry very much. In Cooling Time, the first short essay is called, Op-Ed, and begins:
“I believe in a hardheaded art, an unremitting, unrepentant practice of one's own faith in the word in one's own obstinate terms.”
TIP 2: Believe in what you write and practice your art with obstinate delight.
Be all in. We writers spend a lot of time, at least I have, in compartmentalizing our lives. But to quote from a post about Enrique Martinez Celaya from a couple of weeks ago, “Understanding who you are as an artist should be thought of as a life-long process inseparable from your work.”
A poet I admire, Li-Young Lee, has said, when asked about how he balances his life – earning a living, making time for his family – with his art:
“My first reaction is, I don't balance it – I'm always out of balance. One moment I feel like I'm not spending enough time with the family; the other moment I feel like I'm not spending enough time thinking about poems. But the older I get, the more I realize that they have something to do with each other. If I allow it, when I'm cooking, aesthetic consciousness becomes part of it, and the meal is better. If I'm playing with my kids, if I get into aesthetic consciousness, the game is better. I really do believe in the yogic quality of art, so that it isn't something you do in that room, and when you come out you're a totally different person. It does go into the life, and the life goes into the studio; they feed each other. It's all yogic. That is, it all links us to our whole mind, our whole being.”
The important phrase in the above, is “if I allow it.” Allow your aesthetic consciousness to be part of your life. Know that the writing life is not separable from life itself. Becoming a writer is a life-long process, too. Be in it for the long haul, not the awards, or the grants, or the acclaim. Be in it for the writing.