Reading magazine articles aimed at writers can be depressing when you keep running into the same how-tos over and over. But the March/April issue of Writer's Digest engaged me with the "Eye on the Prize" piece in the "Inkwell" section by Marc D. Allan. I enjoyed reading the thoughts of four writers who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. (Sadly, NO fiction prize was awarded this year.)
I sat up and paid attention when Junot Diaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, 2008) wrote: "Prefer from an audience the complexity of conversation over the simplicities of approval." Isn't that a great philosophy? Very humble and sensible. When critique partners pat you on the back and say, "I loved this story/chapter/poem," it is gratifying and does tell you something. And it feels better than hearing: "This was the dumbest thing I've ever read. What were you thinking when you wrote this?" But what does blanket approval tell you about what you've accomplished and whether you've touched a reader? Not much. Reading Diaz's words, I realized conversation about my work would be the highest form of approval--it's worth talking about!--and the best way to learn what I did right and what I can do better.
In the same article, Jennifer Egan (A Visit From the Goon Squad, 2011) urged writers to give themselves permission to write badly. "Write a lot of terrible stuff and wait for it to get better. . . . [G]et into the habit of being a habitual writer and being present for the good stuff when it comes." That's terrific advice that I've been following a lot lately. I'm writing an especially hard section of my novel, and I think the only way I'll get it down is to give myself permission to write a really, really bad first draft. How many Pulitzer Prize winners won with their first drafts? Come on, people, raise your hands . . . Yes, I thought so. It won't happen for me, that's for sure. That's what first drafts are for.