Friday, November 25, 2016

The Worst Possible Advice To Give A Young Writer


I was going through my old papers today, in search of a Xeroxed chapbook of constructivist poetry assembled under a pseudonym which, if a copy still exists anywhere, has a fair claim to being my first book. But while I was failing to find it, I ran my eyes over prolific evidence of what a profoundly bad writer I used to be, back in college and in the years leading up my first professional publication.

Bad titles ("Rindsbraten," for example, or "Today is the Third Day of a Five-Day Week"), bad writing, bad plots (if so they may be styled), and so on and on. Then I came across "Deirdre," a play I recall devoting enormous amounts of time to, based on the Irish legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows. I didn't bother to read any of it. I just shook my head and thought: Why on earth would someone who knew so little about the secrets of the human heart be tackling such a theme?

But I also thought: It's a damned good thing I can't go back and discourage that young writer from trying.

You should never tell a young writer to wait until they have enough experience to write something. Because trying to write something better than they're capable of writing is the only way to learn how to write better. Classes won't do it. Books won't do it. Only attempting the impossible will. It's discouraging. But it's also necessary.

End of sermon. Enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Oh, and I should also mention that...

This isn't the only worst possible advice to give a young writer -- there are scads of other worst possible advices. But it's certainly bad enough for today.



Sandy said...

How does trying to write some dialog in Deep South dialect rate? Do I get shot for trying that?

Michael Swanwick said...

Might. Hazard of the trade.