Writerly Roundup — March 2016
Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
A Throwing Back, Michael Schmeltzer (@mschmeltzer01), Tahoma Literary Review
Rejection has never been as beautiful as in Michael Schmeltzer’s lyrical meditation on the meaning and magnitude of this inevitable event. Well-known to every writer, rejection is part of our process—each time we send our work out into the world, it looms heavily—a potential, a promise. In this brief piece, Schmeltzer gives us language to conceive of rejection as the reciprocal and illuminating dance that it is:
A writer. An editor. Words submitted, then returned, one smooth motion.
What I mean is authors throw their voice out into the world, and sometimes the world throws it back. What I mean is rejection helps us fade from ourselves into pure voice and steers us clear of narcissism.
On Poverty, Alison Stine (@AlisonStine), Kenyon Review
Stine lobs this keen response at Claire Vaye Watkins’ viral “On Pandering,” exposing—without hyperbole or blame—the poignant reality of poverty’s impact on writing and a writer’s life.
Art is not the class I was born into. It’s not only that writing doesn’t pay well; it costs a lot of money for the privilege of not being paid, even for the consideration of not being paid.
What I love most about this searing piece is how it illuminates not just the plight of the impoverished writer, but what we all lose by not publishing diverse voices, by forfeiting the worthwhile stories of the poor:
Unless you publish the voices of the poor, how will you know about the basket of fruit by the doors of the grocery, free for any child to eat? How will you know about the night when someone anonymously paid for the entire town to attend the movies? How will you know about shaking creosote from woodstoves? Or finding hen-of-the-woods? Or how the ground jerks when the coal mine is dynamited? Or how the mechanic gives away free tires? Or how to steep nettle tea, or how to collect it wild by the river in your arms?
The experiences and imaginations of the poor are as rich as those of anyone born into privilege or tenured as a professor. Sometimes, imagination is all we have.
The Patronizing Questions We Ask Women Who Write, Meaghan O’Connell (@meaghano), NY Mag’s The Cut
When you reveal yourself on the page, when you pen anything beyond the banal, you would be wise to steel yourself against reactions of any kind. But the consistency of a certain brand of questions aimed at women writers—what will the kids think? or the husband? the mother?—expose a double standard that is as rampant as it is unfair. The writing life of a woman is often marked by a pressure to placate those in her midst. In this pointed, perceptive piece, Meaghan O’Connell struck a chord with many about what women are up against when they forge ahead as creative beings:
When a reader or interviewer asks someone how they reconcile their personal and writing lives, the implication is that a reconciliation must take place, that their idea of a writer or artist does not compute with their idea of a woman who has relationships. Or worse, their idea of a woman is “mother, daughter, girlfriend, friend” not “writer, artist, public person.”
Sure, it makes me miserable sometimes, too, but not writing out of some sense of maternal — or worse, feminine! — propriety would both be a betrayal of self and make me terrible to live with.
On Terrible Writing Advice From Famous Writers, Danielle Dutton, Literary Hub
A cautionary note against all tidy proclamations, this whimsical piece pinpoints what can be so frustrating about edicts of what is right and wrong when it comes to writing:
It’s this pose of rightness [referring to Vonnegut’s pronouncement against semi-colons] that surely makes “advice” so dangerously intimidating, since in all other ways, embracing our specificity (not sameness, nor rightness) would seem to be largely the point of writing.
Dutton’s response to Richard Ford’s “don’t have children” is particularly lovely:
I’ll add, for myself, that having a child has certainly enriched my writing, if only for the ways that being a mother has taken me outside myself, and then put me back into myself differently arranged.
She goes on to analogize the mystery of how to raise children to the enigmatic and inevitably particular world of writing in railing against the “tyranny of advice.” Indeed:
…the only writing advice that stirs anything meaningful in my guts or brains—advice that opens me up rather than shutting me down—is advice that acknowledges the limits of what we can know about ourselves or our work, that acknowledges (even revels in) the unknowable, the void.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!