So, my followers, as you may or may not know, these past two weeks have been full of literary events. Last week was highlighted by a panel of professors discussing their experiences and advice on grad school, and this week was taken up by Ball State’s annual In Print Festival of First Books, in which we were host to a group of writers who have just published their first book. The festival involves a reading one night, a panel discussion the second, and class visits throughout the week from each of the writers.
Compiled below are five things, in really no particular order, I learned from these events about being a writer.
1) We’re, astonishingly, all the same.
When you learn from a professor, or meet a published author (sometimes the two are the same), it’s easy to put them on a pedestal as someone who “found the magic trick.” We recognize that they have achieved something we all want, and because of that, we think of them as “different” somehow.
I learned, however, that all of us struggle with the same issues in writing. We all worry about how our work is received. We all deal with rejection and acceptance. And, most of all, we are all constantly figuring out who we are as writers, no matter how published. This was maybe the coolest part about the events: realizing that I had things in common with published authors. It’s a cool feeling.
2) You read what you are, and you are what you read.
Self-confession: for a long time I avoided reading a lot of other writers’ work. Honest truth.
Most of what I read was for class, and very little of it appealed, thematically or stylistically, to me. A big reason was that I just didn’t know how to find writers and journals that interested me. A bigger reason, though, was that I just didn’t know how valuable it really was.
These two weeks, however, I learned that whether it’s finding the right grad school to apply to, journal to publish in, or community to participate with, the act of finding comes from reading. By reading those who interest us, we find the places and niches we belong in.
3) Like writing a novel, growing as a writer falls on a spectrum between “Plotting” and “Pantsing.”
When I took Cathy Day’s novel writing class, I learned that most novel writers fall on a spectrum between being “plotters” (creating very structured, organized plans) and “pantsers” (writing from the seat of their pants as they go). Similar to this, I thought that my life goals should be well-plotted, so to speak. For example, I planned on how I old I would be when I: got married, went to grad school, wrote my first book, settled down, started a farm, etc.
I learned, however, that my growth as a writer shouldn’t be so planned out. True, it’s good to have a general idea and goal in mind, but at the same time, if life is too structured, it can interfere with writing. Living a literary life is about finding the balance between structure and flexibility.
4) If you need school to write, don’t go to grad school.
For a long time, writing was something I limited to schoolwork. I really didn’t do any kind of journaling outside of class, or even get involved with the literary world. I just never had the motivation or drive for it. Because of that, I always saw grad school as a kind of means to an end. The idea was that going on to do postgraduate work would get me to write more.
What the events these last two weeks taught me, however, is that writing is a lifestyle. If you can’t go without it, then it’s probably the place where you belong. This was most brought up in the grad panel, when taking time off after graduation was discussed. During this period of time, they said, you should be writing. If you can’t write without school to structure you, then you should reconsider what it is about writing you enjoy.
5) We are all different.
Now, all these things being said…
Like anything in writing, these rules were made to be broken. Yes, 1-4 are important things I learned, but at the end of the day, every writer is different. Every writer at these events had came to where they are in life, be it teaching or publishing or both, by different routes. There wasn’t a single one of them that was exactly like the other.
There is no formula, no distinct route, no clear path. I learned that the only thing we can do as writers is keep reading, writing, and participating with one another. If we do that enough, we’ll get to where we need to go.