Friday, June 18, 2010

Advice to Aspiring Writers.

A brilliant and hilarious and hugely talented former student of mine hit me up for advice this week. I have no grand answers, but I had three broad things that may or may not apply to others ... so I decided to post part of my letter here. I've talked about some of this stuff before. So if it sounds familiar, skip it.

Advice #1 -- One thing that ties people up when young and makes them fall short of larger goals is that they confuse the territory for the map. The map is an illusion. It's not really land with trees and mountains and streams -- it's a piece of paper. So people want the territory but the map is much easier to get. The map in this metaphor is the trappings of success. It's easier to buy a cool sofa, rent a place that's too steep but in a hot spot, buy the best clothes, and travel to exotic locales ... It LOOKS like the territory, but it's not. And it's hard to distinguish your map for someone else's territory. When we were newly married (young) and making 17k per year and having babies, one of our friends had a yearly bonus that was three times our total annual earnings. (Dave couldn't afford to hang with him. He went on schwing golf weekends ... But they worked it out, overcame the different trappings of their lives, and the friendship endured.) We could have charged the card, had the map, but we would have then had to pay for the map. In paying for the map, which surely isn't free, we'd have to sacrifice time spent on craft. And therefore we would have lost our shot at the territory.

Advice #2 -- We had what I call a Darwinistic advantage over some others in that we came from a strong herd. My family -- in particular my parents. Basically, my parents would take us in at any point. There are still days -- like this past year -- when I call my parents and only needed to hear them say: You can always come home. I'm 40. I have four kids, two dogs, and a mean cat. Dave is a stay at home dad. I'm the sole breadwinner. I've never had to take them up on it. I don't want to. But knowing I had that net has allowed me to make a few riskier moves on the high wire. And it's given me the freedom not to take some bullshit things too seriously. It gives me perspective. I know the fall would be a soft one. So my herd has allowed me to overcome some fear -- or counterbalance it -- and fear of failure is a huge block for achieving. Not everyone's lucky enough to have a strong herd of family or friends. But if you do and if they're willing to act as net and if you can allow yourself to feel the net, do.

Advice #3 -- This is writer-centric, but it doesn't have to be. If you're in the arts, you're likely holding one job for practical concerns and trying to shove writing in. The one thing I can tell you is that the more successful ones -- long haul -- are writing for more hours.
The competition is writing. One way or another -- through some sacrifice or another -- they are finding the hours. Maybe in an MFA or PhD program or film school or maybe at a colony or maybe living in their parents basement or waking up at 4am or writing after a night shift or living in the lap of luxury (there's got to be a handful, right? though I never meet them) or amid little babies that they can nurse while writing or while pretending to work at a desk job or or or ... The competition is writing. So if you want to be a contender, you have to find the hours.

That's it for now. Hope this helps.