The Writer’s Life

 

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photo by Karl Fernandes

“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 be
planned for or predicted, but when such a voice speaks, we can be ready to
listen . . . 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.
Robert James Russell on writing that affects people:
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.
At the end of the week, a fellow writer offered this regarding critics (whether it’s the writer herself or the reader):
We write the best book we can write.
One of the most important takeaway for me was the realization that all writers, (regardless of fame or fortune) share this: we all must face the blank page, we sit alone with our thoughts, we wrestle with insecurity, we know nothing will emerge from the page unless we do the work, we pray that it will be good, we hope others will like it. Welcome to the writer’s life.
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9 thoughts on “The Writer’s Life

  1. Sounds like a great conference, Eva. I especially like all those “nuggets of insight” shared by other speakers and writers. Thank you for sharing and letting us know that most writers can stare for a long time at a blank page before writing that masterpiece!

  2. Reblogged this on Michael Seidel, writer and commented:
    Eva’s final paragraph invokes the same takeaway I’d discovered:

    “One of the most important takeaway for me was the realization that all writers, (regardless of fame or fortune) share this: we all must face the blank page, we sit alone with our thoughts, we wrestle with insecurity, we know nothing will emerge from the page unless we do the work, we pray that it will be good, we hope others will like it. Welcome to the writer’s life.”

    This is where the discipline, desire, and drive enter, and you tell yourself, “Just keep writing,” and try to write the best that you can.

    And then you edit.

    1. Hi Michael,

      And I love YOUR last line: “This is where the discipline, desire, and drive enter, and you tell yourself, “Just keep writing,” and try to write the best that you can.

      And then you edit.”

      So true. Thanks for sharing, write on!
      Eva

  3. I loved this post, Eva. It spoke to me in so many ways. What a wonderful experience to be able to be there with so many talented and passionate mentors. Several of your quotations struck me. The first by Kafka, for sure. The one about the subconscious, and one reminding us that beautiful writing is not enough, we have to make people care enough about our characters to keep turning pages. But the one that really struck me was about copying the writing styles of others. I don’t think enough writers do that, while it is common for artists to do so, and so much is learned that way. One of my best pieces of writing came that way, trying to imitate the way Paul Harding wrote “Tinkers” and throwing in a bit of Wallace Stevens in as well, It resulted in the short story (or prose poem) “13 Ways of Looking at Dying.” I’ve gotten away from writing since I’ve taken up painting, but I’m inspired now to return. Thank you for that.

    1. Hi Deborah,
      I’m so glad that this post resonated with you. I too, try to fit in painting but these days the writing wins out! Hope you find joy in your writing these days!
      Best, Eva

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