Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Of Writing Advice, One-Liners, and an A Game.
Once I met with a writer who had asked me to evaluate her
memoir-in-progress. It was time to return her pages and my report, and over
coffee, maybe pass on some tips for moving on. I wanted to convey both
encouragement and a realistic idea of the amount and type of work still ahead
It was mid-morning, and possibly because I had been awake until 2:00
a.m. watching old episodes of Downton Abbey working on another project, I worried that I wasn't saying anything
particularly hlepful. But then she told me that something I had mentioned
weeks before, just one sentence which I barely remember saying, had already been
a big help as she worked on additional material; roughly this: "Your experience itself is not so unique, so
just tell the story you can tell." Or something like that.
I don't think it's especially brilliant, but I was pleased to have been of help.
This reminded me that so much of the useful, memorable writing advice
I've gotten over the years, has
come in the form of a one-liner. I can recall one writer I admire
telling me, "Nice writing, but what is this really
about?" Good advice, coming after several drafts in which I was spending
a lot of time trying to write elegant prose, while avoiding writing about anything.
Another mentor in a workshop once
asked me to explain, out loud, something I had made overly obscure and complex on
the page, and after I did, she simply said, "Okay. Now write exactly that."
One author's offhand remark, tossed out
during a panel at a writer's conference on creating the *I* narrator in memoir, has also stayed with me: "Get
over yourself; you're not that interesting."
Or something like that.
One more I remember was an MFA faculty member who had read a lot of my
work, and reacted to a new, lackluster piece I'd written with, "If you
settle for your B game, you may not get the A game back." Ouch. But, she had gotten through, and to
this day, I swing for an A game every time. I sometimes strike out, but that's okay; and if I
knew more about baseball, I'd find a clever way of saying it's not the home
runs that count, but a decent batting average. Or something like that.