Friday, March 12, 2010

Advice for a Young Writer

One of the greatest challenges a young writer will ever face is continuing to write without the forced deadline of a school assignment or a job. It is a test that will determine whether you are meant for this or something else. To start, writing for money is probably the last thing you should be thinking about - no one coming out of college is best served by waiting for a writing job to write. And if you do get one, it may be covering select board meetings and/or the paper towel industry. That is fine and well, but just a start.

Becoming a writer is a decision and a practice, not a job. Whatever work you do can feed your decision, for the practice of one task can inform another. Seek out others interested in words so there is a running conversation about writing taking place in your life. At the same time you should be thinking about stories and embarking on reading that school has not supplied - at its best, formal education prepares you to abandon formal education and start learning on your own - now is the time to start. Look at that as an assignment in itself - report, for yourself, on the paths over writers have taken. Trace those paths through reading. Read what the writers you like most have read. When you find yourself interested in any kind of topic, write it, when you think of an idea, write it, when you think of a phrase, write it, hear some dialogue, write it. Carry a notebook with you at all times. Get into the habit - write anything, notes, sketches, descriptions, etc. You need to write until you don't think about writing when you are writing. Study how stories are framed. Share work with friends. Try everything, all genres. Read everything. It all adds up, and you will never be more prepared to sink in neck deep in words than right now. If you put that off you will find it very difficult to return.

It was six years after college before I published a word. The only reason I did or could was that in the interim I kept reading and writing, steeped myself in it, and kept that - not just "a job" - the priority.

It wasn't practical, but nothing about this or any of the arts is. To paraphrase someone wiser than myself, being professional is doing what you should be doing when no one is watching.

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