Monday, August 22, 2016

Patrick Dacey's Brief Warning to a Young Writer

In the 13th in a series of posts on 2016 books entered for The Story Prize, Patrick Dacey, author of We've Already Gone This Far (Henry Holt & Co.), describes what serious effort requires.

A Brief Warning to a Young Writer

If you’re writing fiction, if you feel compelled to write fiction, then you’ve already joined the party, which isn’t a very fun party; in fact, it’s the worst party you’ve ever been to, and, ironically, it’s the one you’ve been fervently anticipating your entire life. Why are you here? Who would spend so many hours alone in a room of infinite voices? Don’t you realize that, by the end of the night, the only thing you will leave with is confusion?

Your entire life is dedicated to the idea of love. Not happiness, sadness, jealousy, rage, or amazement—these are fleeting abstract emotions—but love. Love is poised to exist in us at all times, as is hate. You cannot have one without the other. You love the earth; you hate the people who destroy it, and so on. That’s the main conflict in every story. How can we love and feel loved when everything around us is on fire?

That’s not to say you have to be ultra serious about everything you write. Love is the little fart sounds our bodies make when pressed together, just the same as it is the regret one has from leaving a lover in the middle of the night.

If you’re prepared to take on the question of love, then you must feel everything, you must be afraid, awed, disgusted, impressed, and embarrassed.

You should also want to be read. There’s no point in writing if no one is reading what you’ve written. A storyteller is meant to be heard. Write every first line that comes to mind. Pursue it. Be disciplined. Be open to the source, the voice that says, “It was clear to everyone that A’s eulogy was much better than B’s.” Don’t censor your wild mind. Be a conduit for all that happens in the unseen world inside your head.

Be prepared to spend hours revising what you’ve written. If you find yourself bored by any line, delete it. If you find yourself nodding off by the end of the first page, throw the entire thing away. Make sure you have a good title. Use real objects in the world, and make them magical. Also, write every day. Be willing to go broke, lose people in your life, suffer, fall in love too easily. Get away from whatever is considered a “literary scene,” live alone, write in silence, be a good person, talk to strangers, watch your neighbor’s dog and look at their stuff, take long unplanned trips, be open, be sincere, be honest.

Accept favors.

Say thank you.

Don’t apologize.

Most of all, though, you should understand that if what you’re writing is any good, you will find yourself thoroughly exhausted, possibly devoid of emotion, at the end of the day. You give a piece of yourself away with every story you put out in the world, until, eventually, you have nothing left to give, and you are forgotten. Don’t be dismayed. You were able to create infinite histories recorded in infinite volumes, little treasures to be found when least expected.

You have served your purpose—the only purpose. You have conquered time.