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


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