Monday, January 27, 2020
Should Writing Teachers Suggest Students Abandon a Book?
On the other hand…do I really know with absolute certainty that this book will “never” get
published? Is that the only goal for a writer? It shouldn’t be, though it seems
that most students state that this IS their goal, of course. I wrote some
novels that didn’t get published and learned quite a bit about writing from the
experience. Wasn’t that enough? What would I have done if someone told me the
stories were trite? Honestly, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the exact flaw of
these particular works, but someone surely could have pointed out many other
gigantic flaws during the process. Would I have listened? Would I have wanted
to hear that? Would that have been helpful?
And what about the student who isn’t a very skilled writer
(yet) who is determined to tackle a giant subject—sometimes personal—that he/she
just isn’t able to handle right now? I long to say, “Can’t you practice writing
on a smaller canvas for a little while? You’re not Tolstoy (yet).” On the other
hand, none of us are, and what’s the harm? I think a lot about this one while
I’m writing up critiques that focus on first level things—commas, details,
characterization—when on a smaller canvas, this same poor writer could also
start learning about bigger issues like structure and conflict that would
better serve the writer-in-training.
Now, I also keep an eye out for a writer who is tackling a
story that’s perhaps not theirs to tell (ahem, American Dirt < https://www.vulture.com/2020/01/american-dirt-book-controversy-explained.html>).
But even this situation makes me uncomfortable, as no one technically “owns” a
story, so instead I bring up the complications in choosing to write about an
experience well beyond one’s real-life parameters and outline the literary
culture’s current response to such projects and suggest the publishing pitfalls
that may be ahead and offer excellent resources like Alexander Chee’s response
to the question “Do you have any advice for writing about people who do not
look like you?” <https://www.vulture.com/2019/10/author-alexander-chee-on-his-advice-to-writers.html>.
But should I tell this student NOT to write American Dirt?
DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.