age and writing

I think we often put timeline-pressure on ourselves, particularly about what we hope to have published and when.  Maybe the New Yorker puts it on us with its best under 40 issues.

Meanwhile, Alice Munro was 37 when she published her first book, according to her Wikipedia site.  I admire her for lots of things–sustaining tension, her dark regionalism–but one of my favorites is that she was born in 1931 and she’s still kicking. Hard.  She reminds me that I don’t have to rush progress and that it’s cool to stay alive and keep writing.

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writing from overseas and Zoetrope

Do you all know about the Zoetrope workshop online?

This was a really important resource for me when I was writing from overseas.  They have several different genres–fiction poetry, flash fiction, playwriting–and readers/writers from all over the professional scale.  You have to read and review five stories before you can post one.  Shorter stuff generally gets reviewed first. They have more directions on the site.

I found it great for figuring out what works and what doesn’t work in a story.  Also, some of the writers on there are spectacular readers. A lot of them, like me, were writing from places with less access to writers. I still keep in touch with writers I met on there.

It’s Francis Ford Coppola’s site.  Apparently everything you submit is potentially considered for Zoetrope’s magazine, but with the slush pile over at that publication, it’s hard to imagine.

should aspiring writers go to grad school?

If you have read my about page you can probably predict that I tend to answer this question with an enthusiastic yes.  Here’s why:

student writers have to write a lot

they have to read a lot

get to talk with someone about writing at least four times a week

meet established writers

go to readings all the time

get exposure (and perhaps funding) to go to writing conferences

get really good at reading other people’s work

if they teach or tutor, get really good at line editing and spotting errors

All of that said, I followed some advice coming out of undergrad that I should take some years off before applying to an MFA program.  I took four years; I spent two in Detroit and two in Bangkok.  This decision worked out really well for me because I was exposed to tons of communities in a short amount of time. I worked as a nanny, an actor, a musician, a research assistant, a tutor.  I stocked a department store, directed radio-performances for the blind with a cast of senior citizen actors, traveled to South Africa, India, Vietnam, and to every region in Thailand.  I picked up a lot of cool anecdotes on the way and I am curious about a lot more things than I was before I met all the people from those experiences.

In both of my graduate programs for creative writing, I’ve had friends and colleagues  who have come straight out of undergrad.  Some of them probably could have benefitted from exposure to life experiences outside of the academy but some are spectacular writers and write about cool stuff.  It really depends on the person.

In my experience, street-cred made me a more rounded writer, but school made me a better writer.  I think anyone can get tons of life experience and still be a terrible writer because, if they are anything like I was, they weren’t sure how to send their stuff out, what to read, who to talk to. There are ways to find this stuff out but, if they are anything like I was, will have a much harder time outside of academia.  Whatever the case may be, I have a hard time believing someone could go to graduate school, work hard (this is key), and come out at the same level they went in.

I will end this post by saying that I initially wanted to go to grad school so I could work in the academy and be a writer.  I’m more skeptical about this now–about my ability to land an academic job with an MFA.  The market for the writer academics who inspired me to write in the first place is totally different than the market will be for me.  I still don’t regret spending all this time in school.  Writing is the only thing I know I’ll be doing three years from now. Regardless of what I do–whether it’s getting more street cred or adjuncting or whatever, I’ll be able to write better than if I hadn’t been a student.