advice to writers

Read this post by Susan Orlean, writer for the New Yorker.  Her advice to aspiring writers, followed by mine.

Posted by Susan Orlean

I am dismayed to realize that much of the advice I used to parcel out to aspiring writers has passed its sell-by date. In the past, I had a fairly standard set of suggestions for anyone who wanted to write for a living. Move to a medium-sized city, I’d say. Get a job writing for the paper, any paper—don’t forget the alternative newsweeklies, the local rags, even the community newsletters. Don’t go to graduate school—it’s expensive, and no one cares about writing degrees. And, most important, don’t move back home! Your parents will make you go to law school!

So what happened? First of all, many of the medium-sized cities I used to recommend (say, Portland, Oregon) are now overrun with aspiring writers, and have gotten too expensive to qualify anymore as the place to go when you’re an aspiring writer with no hope for gainful employment. The newspapers—well, you don’t need me to tell you that the alternative newsweeklies have folded, the local rags have migrated online, and the community newsletters have been Craigslisted into oblivion. As for my admonition about graduate school, it turns out that if you get a teaching position as part of your deal, it probably pays better than many jobs you might get in that medium-sized city with the non-existent newspaper.

As for parents, that is the one thing that hasn’t changed. Parents, it seems, have an almost Olympian persistence when it comes to suggesting more secure and lucrative lines of work for their children who have the notion that writing is an actual profession. I say this from experience. Even after I’d published three books and had been writing full-time for twenty years, my father continued to urge me to go to law school. I think he deliberately misinterpreted my look of discomfort whenever we’d have this discussion. “Oh, there, there, don’t worry!” he’d say. “It’s not too late!”

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by Robby Prenkert

1.  Move to a cabin in the woods, but preferably one that has access to high speed Internet, or at least has a 3G wireless access.  And indoor plumbing.  Cable is nice, too.

2.  Start a blog and post something, anything, every day.  Start a twitter account and follow everyone.  Hope that they will follow and mention you as well.  Link every blog entry you write to your twitter and facebook accounts.  Have gazillions of facebook friends.  Wallah… readers.

3.  Fill a notebook a month with your “writing practice.”  If you want to write, you have to practice.  The world doesn’t need to see you parading your practice sessions, so keep it to yourself in your “notebook of the month.” With time, all those blog entries should start to improve.  And even if they don’t, someday long after your dead some doctoral student might discover you and write a dissertation about how brilliant and ahead of your time you were when she stumbles on all those piles of notebooks you filled, dusty and moth eaten, in the back of a closet.

4.  Marry well; marry rich.  You’ll be able to both eat and write.

5.  Read a lot of Franz Kafka, which will likely yank the rug from under your romantic notions about being a writer.  Then, try to write a story about the time you woke up that one morning only to discover you’d been transformed into a giant dung beetle.

6.  Keep writing anyhow, because writing is good for you, even if what you write doesn’t ever get read by anyone else.  Readers are overrated anyhow.  What do they know; afterall, millions of them really loved the Twilight books.

7.  Ignore all the writing advice floating around in books, blogs, and websites.  Most if it is hogwash.  Trust yourself.

8.  Take long bike rides or long walks as often as possible.  Sitting on your butt all day has a tendency–especially if you’ve married rich and have a lot to eat–to make your butt swell.  Exercise helps combat swollen butt syndrome.

9.  Get up early and do something for 20 minutes or so that makes you sweat.  I’m sure you can think of something.

10.  Never give up.  Never, ever give up.  Never, ever, ever give up.  Unless you discover you like playing wiffleball or gardening or restoring old cars a lot more than you like writing. In that case, drop the writing and do what you love.

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I teach humanities at Bethel College; I have two dogs, one daughter, and one wife; I grow food in my backyard; I play basketball at noon three times a week; I'm writing a novel in June.

One thought on “advice to writers”

  1. Robby,
    this is hilarious. how do you learn to write with this humor? I have started blogs several times and even though I’ve been able to generate readers and topics to write about I always dissolve the blog because it gets too edgy (maybe someone starts attacking me – maybe I attack someone else). Nevertheless, I think blogging should always be in good fun, even if some thoughts are deep, it’s good to keep it light.

    Question? would you take all of your own advice here?
    Readers are overrated? Marry rich? Move to a cabin in the woods? Sounds fun, but practical?

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