Advice to Alison

Posted: March 20, 2014 by Jollymore in Uncategorized

    • Alison,

      No, I’m not ignoring your question [What advice do you give other writers], but I had to think about it for a while (two months proved  enough time): I probably put too much weight on self-reliance. A contrarian by nature, I seldom, explicitly anyway, follow advice. Then, again, we are all following someone – parents, siblings, heroes, lovers, you name it. I mean much less to you than any of those, so take my “advice” accordingly.

      What has been helpful to me has been reading about writing, specifically and in general, submitting to kind critique, keeping the company of writers, and writing.

      I’ve realized that those writers-about-writing who influence me most are dead. The deader the better, I suppose because they can’t be trying to influence me in particular and are not criticizing me personally. Wallace Stegner’s posthumous book is reviewed on my blog. I loved John Gardner’s two books on writing, THE ART OF FICTION being the better of the two. Barbara Ueland’s 100 year old IF YOU WANT TO WRITE speaks for itself as it is still in print. Others to read who are living are Umberto Eco, SIX WALKS IN THE FICTIONAL WOODS, L. Rust Hills, WRITING IN GENERAL AND THE SHORT STORY IN PARTICULAR, Stephen King’s ON WRITING, Dillard’s THE WRITING LIFE. One NOT TO BE READ is Donald Maas’s WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, unless you like abuse. There are others. People who have written themselves are the ones to read.

      Having mentioned abuse, I do recommend LEAVING any critique group that does not feel good. I was fooled into thinking initially that criticism that hurt was in all right if it meant well. I have come to know many who are kind and critical. They do not wish to hurt or build an ego on how much they know. Yes, choose folk with standards, but leave as soon as evil rears its head. I do mean evil. There is noting wrong with people who believe in you.

      I have only been to one writer’s conference and a couple of years worth of club meetings and critiques. I find both activities wonderful.

      Above all, I write. When I started, I chose to write three hours a day, five days a week. I seldom missed, maybe never. You set the tone. You set the practice. Whatever you decide is right until you prove to yourself that you need to change. [Annie Dillard like to write in a cold cabin. In my third year, I started turning on the heat.] That which I have written that is best is, in descending order of value: fictional text revision under an editor’s tutelage, fictional text revision on my own, fiction composition,notes I took at readings of my work, book reviews on the blog, log lines and summaries, queries to agents.

      My friend Michael Zak told me when I started teaching, “Choose one thing to work on each year. Improve that one thing.” He made no promises, but that worked magic. I improved. When I left teaching, I had improved 14 things and did those ever make life more enjoyable.

      Thank you for the compliment and for asking the question. I’d be pleased to hear from you again.


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