At some point in life, you will stumble upon words of wisdom which are true enough to sustain you and your creative spirit, and which you can slip into your imaginary pocket and carry with you wherever you go. But if you’re lucky, you will meet people who will become your mentors throughout your creative journey — and their words will do more than sustain you. Instead, their words will become your saving grace. You will find that such words never really go away.
Below, I’ve drafted a very short list of things my mentors have said to me just when I was starting out to build my life as a writer. These were people I met in the course of several years while I was in my early twenties and they didn’t all have the same background. Larry was a language instructor and a biographer who taught legal writing at a law school. Michael was one of the most revered fiction editors in America. Henry was a glass blower who used to be an engineer, who ran a souvenir shop with his wife of forty years. Lisa was a poet and songwriter who taught creative writing at an adult education institution. Megan was a sculptor who, at the time, was engaged to a rapper. Katie was an intern at a literary journal where I was also interning. And the list goes on.
Some of these advices may apply to you, some may not. Take the good, toss out the rest.
Interpret them as you wish, or as you see fit.
So here we go. TBC
1. LIFE EXPERIENCES
You write well. But you lack life experiences. You’re only twenty. What you need to do now is stop writing and just live. When you have lived, then you can write about it.
2. FICTION DOESN’T ALWAYS PAY
Writing fiction doesn’t always pay. And if you’re in it for the pay, you’re doing it wrong.
3. NOT JUST ANY KIND OF JOB
When you get older, you’ll find that your writing gets in the way of real life. Or the other way around. My advice? Find a job that pays the bills, but not just any kind of job. It has to be the sort of job that leaves you enough time to write.
4. THE BEGINNING OF THE END
If people hate what you write, that’s good. If they love it, that’s bad. For a writer worth his or her salt, nothing is more soul-crushing than a praise. When you accept and embrace a compliment, that’s the beginning of the end.
You shouldn’t bother yourself with labels. A good story is a good story.
6. TELLING STORIES
Writers should tell stories to readers, not editors.
I hate writers who say things like, “Please read this if you have time.” If you can’t convince me to make the time to read your writing, then maybe I shouldn’t read it. Obviously, you have little faith in it yourself.
8. REJECTION LETTERS
If you can’t handle rejection letters, you have no business being a writer.
9. ON TRUTH
Truth is a very important word for fiction writers. The serious ones, at least. Readers of fiction expect no less than the perfect truth, which is the imperfect state of everything else.
10. BEING A JOURNALIST
The fastest way to help you become a better writer is to train as a journalist.