Posts Tagged ‘mortality’

A few days ago, I read the excellent article “Writing and Mortality” by Rachel Swirsky, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  I recommend reading it and coming back here, but since I don’t always do that myself, I’ll summarize. She talks about some advice she read about writing, how if the project you’re working on is not the project you’d be working on if you only had six weeks to live, then it’s the wrong project. Rachel calls foul on this advice, saying that if she had only six weeks, she’d be busy spending time with her loved ones. “Artists,” she says, “aren’t only real artists if they would spend their last few days creating art.” 

I agree with Rachel one hundred percent. Creating art is a high priority for me; in fact, I’ve structured my life around increasing my time to do so. But it’s not my highest priority, and that’s okay. This truth was brought home to me recently when I was suffering from root canal complications.  Mostly I was thinking, “My god, the pain, the pain, please make it stop, I’ll do whatever it takes to stop the pain.”  But when I could focus beyond the immediate suffering, what did I care about the most?  I wanted to spend time with my husband and my little dog, and I wanted to write long e-mails to my best friend.  I’m an ambitious person, but when it came down to it, I wasn’t thinking about my writing anymore.  What mattered to me was the people I love.

Taking a step back, this entire discussion was sparked from a piece of writing advice. I read a lot of writing advice every week.  I even occasionally write some writing advice.  It’s amazing how much helpful information about writing I can learn from the internet (although at this point, a lot of the advice I read is a reminder more than a revelation).

But this advice is not infallible, and it cannot be followed blindly.  Each piece of advice requires consideration, and if you find it doesn’t work well for you, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong or a bad writer or anything else.  It means that advice is not for you, full stop.

People try to give me advice all the time (and not just about writing, either).  Here are some examples of advice I do not take:

1. You should write every day. Yeah, I don’t write every day.  I usually take weekends off, and then I come back to the computer on Monday full of fresh ideas and vigor.  That’s what works for me, for now.
2. You should write what you know. Sorry, I don’t actually live in a world with working magic or a world set in the future, but I still write about them.  (Yes, this advice has deeper connotations that are more helpful, but its phrasing can be misleading.)
3. You should write x words every day. Unfortunately, only I know how many words I can write per day, and this number changes over time and depending on circumstances (like, for instance, a root canal or quitting the day job).
4. You should only submit to pro paying markets. I actually kind of follow this one, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s silly.  Really I should submit to any markets I feel like submitting to, right?  If I’d be happy seeing my work at a certain publication, then I’ll submit.  If I won’t feel happy or I think the publication is shady in some way, then I won’t submit.  So this advice isn’t for me.
5. You should/shouldn’t outline. Um, really good writers go both ways on this one.  So I’ll do whatever I like, and experiment with both.  (For those wondering, yes, I outline for novels.  For short stories, it really depends.)

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Advice is in the eye of the beholder.  People give advice about what works for them as individuals.  But we are not cookie cutter people, and therefore some of this advice will not work for you.  The trick is to learn what you can, and then adapt that learning to fit your own lifestyle, your own priorities, your own artistic strengths and weaknesses, and your own voice.

I would love it if you would comment with some advice you have read or received (writing advice or otherwise) that doesn’t work for you.  It can even be something that I have said here on the blog (gasp). I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

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