But what do you do when you’ve managed to surround yourself with people who care about and support you and insist on reading your senior BFA thesis despite how bad you now recognize it to be? Who do you avoid with no parents trying to convince you to go to law or med school, instead leaving you sweet notes saying how proud they are to be your father? Well, you just doubt yourself, of course. It’s the loudest and quietest voice—no one but yourself charged with arguing and disproving it. It’s never your own stupid voice that ignites your competitive spirit and hastens you to prove it wrong. Oh, what a difficult, tortured, blessed life.
Being Inspired By Now: Letters to a Fiction Writer
Frederick Busch’s collection of letters from established fiction writers to their apprentices promises to change my life. Encouragement is vital to success. As of late, I’ve been feeling uninspired, untalented, and underwhelmed in my writing life, often writing more on Twitter and text message than on my typewriter. But I’m making an effort to stifle my own insecurities by just shutting the hell up and writing.
In Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse: Endless Inspiration (No. 2), she lists the “Top Three Tips for Staving Off Writerly Despair”:
1. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.
2. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.
3. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.
But before this turns into some hack self-help session, enter Letters to a Fiction Writer, edited by Frederick Bush. Himself a fiction writer, he addresses his introduction to an agent who rejected his novel years before, sending him this note:
Dear Mr. Busch,
Ah, if only you wrote fiction as well as you write letters of inquiry.
According to my sense of humor, it’s a funny note. But Busch uses the sarcastic and dismissive note to illustrate the purpose of this compilation: to encourage. He celebrates the community found among writers and highlights letters not solely from the recognized “greats” but from those who actively took (and are taking) part in mentoring and nurturing the younger of their breed.
He purposely leaves out letters from Joyce, Dickens, Hemingway, and Flaubert because of the characteristic self focus and promotion found in their letters. They do not advance his purpose: to create a “book… of counsel and sustenance.” (10)
The letters are authored by “writers [who] offer their language to members of the eccentric extended family of fiction writers…” (10) Busch promises me that I am “about to receive the wisdom of those who know, from the inside of the process, what a writer might need, from time to time, to hear.” (11)
The first letter, from Lee K. Abott to his son Kelly, recounts a defining moment between him and his own father: “In 1963, my father, drunk on Ron Rico and history, was taking seriously, in a way I hadn’t or couldn’t yet, what it means to be a writer—that ours is an obligation, maybe like that the saints have, to make sense of what, singly or as a tribe, has befallen us; that we, those with the language and the imagination and the memory, must bring shape and order to all that’s locked away; that we, yeah, must write it all goddam down—all that bedevils and beleaguers, all that mystifies and frightens, all that’s revealed, literally and figuratively, when the ‘past’ is sprung open before us.” (16) I teared up.
He closes, instructing Kelly, and all of us (thanks to Freddy), one last time: Write it all goddam down.