do you have any tips for young writers?
Read widely, and deeply, and over again. Reading is not an avoidance of writing; I think it’s study. The more you read, the better you understand what language is capable of — specifically on a technical level, how it functions, or might be worked into functioning, in the telling of X. And discerning how someone else’s sentences work, or someone else’s poems break, or why precisely you need to go for a walk after reading someone else’s essay is not copy or emulation, but apprenticeship. (Frank McCourt: ”He says, Ah, boys, boys, You can make up your own minds but first stock them. Are you listening to me? Stock your minds and you can move through the world resplendent.”) Surround yourself with evidence of what language can do and it will agitate and add to your own perspective, which is the seat of your own voice.
Don’t think too much about audience. Write first of all for yourself, on behalf of what moves and matters to you, and maybe second of all for a few people you love. I think write to them, rather than for or at or, strictly speaking, about them? While I’m sure these are, in some sense, four distinct actions, I also suspect — I mean, I personally find — there’s a lot of overlap. These people you love might be writers, too, whose work and minds you admire, and whose reactions you trust; they might not be writers at all. But it helps to have a small, grounding faction outside of yourself: a spotting mechanism, not for approval but as a gauge of your own patterns.
Be prepared for rejection, of course. I would not put—especially in the context of just starting out—too much emphasis on publication, or really much at all. Don’t be in a rush. (Having said that, I’ve been in a rush before; it’s a good lesson and a good feeling, but learn it and move on.) Don’t bother trying to decode shades of rejection in a response. Instead, do try to sit through several stages of thinking something is Done. I don’t know if I know when something is done, but I’ve learned to ride out the exhilaration of having written a piece: to expect the doubt and not short-circuit it, to go back and reconsider, and to do this maybe, probably, several times. And on the question of rejection: it will happen a lot, and you can’t know the reason in each instance. A lot of extremely-competant-to-unimpeachable-to-truly-great writing is turned down because of space or length or outside/contractual deadline or notable similarity to something else recently accepted. When you are sending your work out, try to keep both these things in mind: that it may not be about your work, and that your work may not be ready.
Keep a list of passages from literature that move you. Make playlists of songs that round out or score what you’re trying to write, if that feels like a natural and adjacent organizing point re: themes and feeling – a mutable soundtrack to your narrative-in-progress, an inexact mirror. (But maybe don’t listen to the playlists while you write; I don’t know about that.) (I’m extremely unmusical, and not even adept at expressing what I’m responding to in music or why, but a song can lay me out for a day or more. Once, a friend who is widely artistically talented said she thought she might be so enamored of music in part because it eludes her creatively. I think this is right: the marooning comes about precisely because I lack musical talent or inclination, because I am so inarticulate about how other people’s talent operates and affects, because it would seem I am never able to do anything about [the feeling]. I am unequipped to respond; my reaction gets lodged. So on one hand, when I’m writing I’m often trying, in the context of my subject, to pin down, put words to, this actual feeling — the visceral lodging/dislodging — that music sometimes generates. On the other, I’m challenged by the dubious prospect of cultivating the feeling for effect, of learning how to generate it and deliver it to the page myself, from scratch or somewhat at will.) What I mean to say is music might be another check, like people. And this other check may not be music, but painting or photography or fabric or—.
This is advice is never far from me:
On that last bit: make writing a daily habit, no matter how little time you may be able to give it. You will have to learn for yourself when to push through blockage or malaise or distractibility, and when to go for that proverbial or actual walk. Whatever your habit entails, keep at it. I’m excited for you. xo