Advice From the Man

I've never taken a writing class before. I've read several authors with MFA degrees who swear it was this or that professor who polished them and made them into the writers they are today. I signed up for a writing class once, in college, (I was a Lit Major) but dropped it because, frankly, I was afraid of what I might hear.

At this point in my life I don't have time for writing classes. I once read an article by Ernest Gaines in which he spoke of teaching intro writing classes at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. He mentioned lawyers who spent their nights writing the G.A.N., and who came to class because they wanted his opinions, wisdom, and advice. It seemed sad to me...these souls with hearts that cried out to be artists, but who had let fear turn them to a career that could guarantee they operated in the black.

What can you do, though, but make the best choice you can at the time? How much better was I, opting out of the filthy lucre racket but wallowing in my own fear of failure all those years? Ah, the clarity of hindsight...the lesson being, I suppose, that's it's never too late if you have something to say.

In any case, I have spent a good bit of my time recently reading authors I admire, both their fiction and their advice. How are they motivated? How did they learn to write? The consensus among them all seems to be the same: study the greats. Read, and read, and read, and read some more. When you are not writing, you should be reading - not only for pleasure, but to get a feel for how to construct dialog, how to move along a plot, and how to write language that works.

Here's a good place to get started - Ernest Gaines, Mozart and Leadbelly; Stephen King, On Writing; Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country, and essays & tidbits from Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick.

Philip Dick, for example, offers the following advice for studying great works as a way to improve one's own craft:
For the development of realistic characters & dialogue -
Short stories of Algren, Styron, Herb Gold, and the New-School writers
The left-wing writers of the 1930's, i.e. Dos Passos & Richard Wright
Theodore Dreiser
Nathaniel Hawthorne

For plot & characterization: Flaubert

Also, anything by James Joyce

Finally, A.E. van Vogt, and Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut

The next bit of guidance seems simple enough. Write. Write. Write. Every day, sit down and write, even if you are 100% positive that it is total crap and will never be bought or read by a living soul. Without a doubt this is the toughest part for the emerging writer, even though the longing to write is burning in their soul. It must go past the dreaming stage, into concrete ideas and words on paper.

And so, I am taking their advice. This week I am reading, and studying, and planning. At present I have four stories in various stages of birth, and I am taking a couple of days to flesh them out. I am collecting notes and ideas from no less than three separate journals, as well as the odd scrap of paper here and there, and tackling them from a more organized point of view. I hope to have all of this done by next Thursday, as the children are going to their father's house for a long weekend, and the LOML is away on business. I'll have four days of solitude and the blank page.

I'll keep you posted.

21 June 2007

And...She's Back

I must apologize for the long and striking absence of any posting for the last couple of months. I took some time off for my family - in May to spend time with my children, and in June to get married and go on vacation. I am as a result fat and contented, so to speak, which doesn't translate into good art from what I understand. Art needs suffering. I guess at this point I have only my memories and gift for empathy to rely on. We shall see.

In the interim, however, I have been busy. I have been reading and studying voraciously, both in technique and in content. As I want to write about Louisiana and its people, I have read a collection of short stories by Louisianians, subscribed to and read the LSU Journal The Southern Review, and consumed an interesting book concerning our place in the modern world. I have also continued studying the great writers, with Hemingway's autobiographical work of living and working in Paris, and the book I am currently reading, a collection of essays, journal entries, and story ideas from Philip K. Dick. And, I also began studying photography, though that project is in its infancy.

On the writing front, I have fleshed out the ideas and notes for two new stories, and...(drum roll here) received my first two rejection notices. When I got them I didn't know if I should frame them as badges of honor or burn them. I chose instead to tuck them away quietly in between stacks of old notes, knowing that one day I'll be perusing and come upon them. Hopefully, it will be when I can look back as a successful writer with a bit of nostalgia. I'm sure the stack will grow, but I'm ok with that. Feels like I am earning my chops.

So, in any case, hello again to any readers out there. Tomorrow I will begin blogging anew in earnest, with updates on the stories, and links to interesting tidbits I come across. Till then....just write, damnit.

20 June 2007

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