There's a common refrain in writing, and it goes something like this: What you leave off the page is just as important as what you put on it. It's an important concept to grasp as a writer, and a difficult one. The natural inclination is to over describe.
I don't have a novel out. I don't even yet have any of my stories in print. That's changing in January, then February, then June (but that's beside the point). Yet, someone still wanted me to get up in front of a crowd and read a sample of my work.
There was a great article on LitHub by Kim Liao that started recirculating on Twitter over the weekend. In the article, Kim suggests you should aim for 100 rejections per year as a writer. At first, the advice sounds crazy. Why shoot for rejection? But she makes wonderful points.
Every writer I know—myself included, because I know myself pretty damn well (hopefully)—hits a funk with their writing. Sometimes, these funks come weekly. For you, it might be daily or monthly or some other random range of time. But they come and they suck.
We steal to develop. We steal to create. Everything new is borrowed. So, it's not what I took from you, it's what I took from you and made my own. That's what stealing from others is all about. I've mentioned Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist a few times, but it's worth repeating for the sake of this post: Go buy that fucking book. It's so good.
Getting told your work is not as good as it could be is tough. It’s painful. In the moment, it makes you want to quit. But if you’re committed, if you enjoy the work you’re doing, if you really want to get better, the feedback you receive will fuel you. You’ll get better. But getting that feedback isn’t as easy as it seems.
People like to be told what to read. Or just what to do in general. This is the basic operating belief behind this blog post. Wait, what do you mean that's not true? I've already started writing. Well, I'm going to write this thing anyway.
Most MFA programs (hopefully all of them) require a final thesis upon completion of the program. Depending on your genre, that thesis can take many forms, but for the sake of this blog post, we're going to stick with the Fiction genre. In that case, the final project will be either a collection of short stories or a novel manuscript.
As part of my MFA program in Creative Writing, I have to work on a final thesis. This thesis is to be a collection of short stories or a novel manuscript. I spent most of this semester working on a novel for that thesis, but Donald Trump destroyed that. It's not all bad, though. Donald also happened to help me write my next attempt at a novel which I will submit for my thesis at the end of the program.
I don't think writers should think about all the knowledge they've collected over their years of life on this earth then figure out how to cram that into a story. Do some fucking research, and feel free to write about what you don't know if you want. But, I will say there's merit in writing where you know. At least for me.
When I entered my MFA program in Creative Writing, I expected to be inundated with references to books and stories of which I'd never heard. I expected to be told the writing I liked was not of a quality worthy of discussion in the program. In truth, I figured this was the trade-off I would have to make to become a better writer: discuss stories that I felt lacked a plot entirely but fell neatly within the "literary fiction" genre (or lack thereof) and grit my teeth while improving my own craft.