Friday, August 03, 2012

Good Advice + Hard Work

Do yourself a favor this morning, and read this: How to Have a Career: Advice to Young Writers. Everything in it is spot on. My favorite part: 
Money. Learn to live on air. Buy the best health insurance you can afford. If you have roommates, work in the library. Run and do calisthenics instead of paying for a gym membership. Invest in ear plugs, good sneakers, and a coffee machine. Buy oatmeal in bulk. Learn to cook simple, nutritious meals. Save and eat leftovers. Cafes are a waste of money, calories, and time; leave them to the tourists. Buy books used, perform periodic culls, and resell them. Wasting money on clothes is the stupidest habit of all. You will only ever need two good outfits.
And this one, too: 
Kindness. It should go without saying that you must be kind to everyone you meet. People have long memories. Bad behavior should not be returned in kind. When people forget their manners, take it as an opportunity to practice yours.
The whole thing is worth a read, whether or not you're a writer. 

And speaking of writing, it's August, as we've already established, and I am unofficially back to work as a TA. At the end of this month, I'll once again receive paychecks from the university (thank god!) in exchange for teaching young, undergraduate minds the finer basic things about fiction. Which means that until school starts, I will be feverishly working on my syllabus and trying to get a head start on reading assignments, in the hopes that I will remain ahead of my students. I'm a little nervous about teaching this semester, as my load will be twice as big as last year's (29 students, as opposed to 10 - a big jump!), and I'll have to balance my TA duties with my own three classes, my new part time job at the wine store, and getting married. It's going to be a crazy semester, so if I periodically disappear from blogosphere, please don't take it personally. In the meantime, I'm sure the toughest moments of the semester will inspire me to re-read the Advice link I posted above, especially this part: 
Work. Be relentless. All over the world, people are working harder than you.
And now, I better get to work. Okay, fine. Coffee, a six mile run, and then work.


  1. I actually took a lot of issue with this advice. Well, I liked "Be ruthless," and the advice on not wasting money on gym memberships or clothes.

    But this section struck me as supremely rude: "Don’t go to events; go to the receptions after the events. If possible, skip the receptions and go to the afterparties, where you can have a real conversation with someone."

    If I discovered that someone I knew had skipped a reading I'd done and just come to the afterparty for the purpose of "real conversation," I would feel supremely hurt. I would feel used. I would certainly not invite one of these people to my events or readings ever again. And I would never dream of offending a fellow writer or artist this way.

    (Plus, I get so inspired at events. I have gone home after readings --skipping the afterparty to write-- and created some of my best poems. Lately, I get an idea for a new prose poem every time I go out to a swing dance party. Events are part of living, and living is where all my inspiration comes from.)

    Also, "sickness is a waste of time and money" struck a bad chord with me. Perhaps because this year, I lost a close friend who lived a healthy life, but died of cancer to a bad draw in the genetic lottery. You can work as hard as you can to be healthy. Her tone here came across as judgmental. Perhaps I'm seeing this through grief-colored glasses, but it bothered me.

    And this: "Avoid all messy and needy people including family; they threaten your work." This line strikes me as supremely unkind. God forbid I abandon my family when they need me, even if it distracts from my work. God forbid I sacrifice friendships for the all-important God Of Writing. Man, I really wish I hadn't spent so much time at my friend's bedside when she was sick, not getting any writing done. I really regret doing my best to see her through illness.

    And finally: "Once you’ve truly begun, slow down. The difference between publishing two good books and forty mediocre books is terribly large." Yes. Writing novels is difficult. I know because I have written several and not had one come out publishable, even after revision (though I have gutted a few for good short stories). Yes, getting poetry books published is difficult -- I've been shopping a manuscript for nearly a year, with only minor luck. But if I get to the end of my life and career and only have two published books to my name, I will not consider that a career. I will consider that dilettantism. I don't know how I can be "ruthless" and still come out with only two quality books in the span of my life.

    1. Great rebuttal of some of the advice listed! First off, I agree - I would never skip an event, and am more likely to skip the after party, to be honest. That part made me not want to skip events (I love readings as well, and gain a lot of inspiration from them) but to make a better effort to go to after parties and network-y things, especially while I'm in school.

      I am so sorry about your friend, and agree that part can come off as judgmental and cold. Again, my interpretation was a bit different - that we should take care of ourselves as best we can, sleep at night, eat well, exercise, and strike a balance between work and health. Being a writer is not always the most conducive to a balanced, active lifestyle. ;)

      Avoid messy and needy people is definitely the most harsh, and I would never ask someone to abandon their family or a sick friend (and I hope the writer of this piece didn't mean that, either. If she did, then I will stop taking her advice immediately!) Again, interpretations vary - I have a few toxic people in my life, people who bring me no joy, no comfort, no support, but who I keep around because... well, I don't know why. I don't plan to cut those people off completely, but this reminded me to take a step back from those relationships - not so much for my writing, but for my sanity.

      And as for the last paragraph - I, personally, would be happy with two good books. I haven't written a novel yet - at least not one that I'm proud of - and I still feel like I have a long way to go. I'm already 30, though, and I'm a slow writer. I feel like I'm always working, revising and submitting and reading and trying to make my writing better. I think about writing all the time, and it's a huge part of my life. I consider it my career, and I will continue to consider that whether I publish 40 books or 0 books. A successful career as a writer, to me, is to keep getting better at writing by remaining committed to it, no matter how long it takes. And I think for some of us, it is a long, slow road - for me, most certainly. So I found comfort in that final paragraph. I guess the "ruthless" part comes from not giving up or abandoning our passions, no matter how far off success may seem, or how long it takes us finally write something that we accept as good enough.

      Anyway, thanks for the conversation and the opposing thoughts! I enjoyed your perspective, sincerely. :)

    2. I wanted to chime in to say that some of the advice reminds of the bad behavior one sees in academia: prioritizing work over people and relationships, particularly the advice about skipping events and avoiding "messy people." Ultimately, I think the advice is intended to help writers find their focus and to empower them to say no when necessary--that's certainly advice I follow so that I can stay sane while pursuing a multi-year project at work. (Writing and science are both very long-term endeavors, I think.) But one should be very aware of what she is saying and choosing when she makes decisions about people. When someone has wronged me or abandoned me during a time of need, I will forgive but I will not forget. And that changes everything.

  2. Good article, thanks for sharing. I love how you're always so optimistic, it's very inspiring. Good luck! :)

  3. Whew, there's a novel to read in the comments today! :-)

    And can I tell you I'm kind of excited that you're going to continue your part-time job at the wine store? I think that sounds like such a cool gig! And perhaps a nice change of pace from the immersion of your graduate program?

  4. Yes.

    I wholeheartedly agree with most of the advice--this coming from someone who's reached the other side of the MFA and wished she'd done a lot of things differently. A strict interpretation would be challenging, but I think the overall vibe of the piece is right-on. Work, work, work. Then you'll succeed.

    Good luck preparing for the start of classes & teaching!!!

  5. Wow you have a busy semester coming up! Good luck with everything-I can't believe it's already fall!

  6. I love the bits of advice you picked out - am off to read the rest of it.

    Good luck with your busy term - and that last point is so right - work!!!