“You do not need to leave your room, remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka
And so the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing summer conference began with the reading of this Kafka quote. Throughout the weeklong conference, an overarching theme of trust—whether it’s trusting your individual style, voice and process, or allowing yourself to write freely, “clean out the pipes” even if it’s bad writing, or that ideas can come from the subconscious when you least expect it, so be ready and listen for it—revealed itself over and over again.
The MVICW, founded by Alexander Weinstein and in its eighth year, provided poetry and fiction workshops that explored everything from releasing your inner critic and overcoming blocks to practical guidance on how to strengthen your writing muscle.
Here were some of my favorite morsels of gold from the faculty:
Alexander Weinstein, director of MVICW, on the inner critic:
Craft issues are often the inner critic in drag. The inner critic is the unloved part of the self . . . it keeps intruding on the writer.
Allow yourself to write crap . . . Don’t let ideas mold . . . get them out as fast as you can.
Jennifer Tseng on learning to be a better writer:
Books can be our gurus . . . approach books as our teachers . . . we can study with anyone . . . we can study with dead people.
Christopher Citro on the rewards of trying to emulate another author:
Don’t worry about trying to copy the writing style of your idols, because even if you try, you’ll never end up writing like them. But in trying to do so, you will find ‘yourself’ [as a writer] in there . . . in that failure to capture someone else’s voice, in that space, you will emerge.
Allegra Hyde on listening to your subconscious:
Tapping into a miraculous narrative vein is not something that can beplanned for or predicted, but when such a voice speaks, we can be ready tolisten . . . We can open ourselves up to those stories that seem to pour, effortlessly, from the muses.Writing from the subconscious means being willing to turn off your inner critic.
When your writing describes something beautifully, readers may enjoy it . . . the writing is good, the description is beautiful. But if nothing happens there, why should they care? They won’t. Make readers care. Something must happen.Zig when others think you’re going to zag.Be authentic . . . own your process.Do the work . . . Persevere.
We write the best book we can write.