A piece I prepared for Aislinn Hunter, for a workshop she’s doing…
for a writer starting out —
- Do the work: seriously: Nancy Lee says that choosing to be a non-civilian and becoming a writer means saying No to things you, yes, LOVE TO DO. Yeah, like that.
- Do the work: establish a practice by any means necessary (crib from Malcom X): try and write every day, even if only for 15 minutes. (note: I don’t do this! But I absolutely did it the first five years of outing myself as a writer and until I had my first book published).
- Practice by reading as a writer: mimesis is your friend: copy text you love and can’t live without, by hand, into your note book. Study syntax, the sequence of language parts in a phrase or piece of narrative.
- Practice by reading a lot, devour and go deep (again, I don’t do this nearly enough now, but I absolutely did it in the years leading up to my first book).
- Build and sustain community by: showing up to other writers’ events and buy their books. Showing up to book launches and not buying books is tacky.
- Seek out and find literary events: conferences, readings, writing groups, even if it means going to events where you know no one and no one speaks to you. This happened a lot. I went anyway.
- If in writing workshops, don’t be that woman who nitpicks about grammar or spelling. The purpose of the workshop is to help your colleagues feel excited about their revision process: be generous (Wayde Compton).
- In whatever form it works for you, pray: seriously: find help from muses and court them/Her. Don’t grovel. Sashay.
- When other writers ask for advice on their writing, always try and find time to say yes. If you do not have time, find some other way to support the requests of your writing colleagues. Betsy Warland and Rachel Rose taught me that–
- Commit to at least five years of extreme writing and reading, go deep. E.g. find a writer or, allow writers and their books to find you and then devour everything ever written by them. Ask questions. Even if they are dead, write to the authors you adore. Especially if they are dead, write to them. Yes, commune with the spirit world.
- Nurture obsessions, strangeness, and write about your own writing.
I’ve learned more from writing about my own writing, doing written
diagnostics on what is working/not working in a piece, than almost anything else…
- Don’t give advice about writing unless asked! The New Yorker did a
cartoon series this year on how to live a beautiful life and the top “suggestion”
was “don’t give advice”.