“How can I become a writer?” renowned authors have been asked throughout the ages. Ray Bradbury believed you had to be irrepressibly in love with your work, “If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.” Henry Miller thought writing required strict schedules and single-minded commitment to your craft: “Write according to program and not according to mood!” he advised in his 11 commandments, a set of precepts meant to direct his conduct, “If you can’t create, you can work.” Henry James maintained a writer must be attentive and turn an unflinchingly eye to the world. “Be someone on whom nothing is lost!” he implored.
Anne Sexton added her own counsel to the storehouse of advice on the craft in her extraordinary Paris Review interview in Women Writers at Work. In response to the perennial question “What advice would you give to a young poet?”, Sexton offered the following beautifully-phrased guidelines:
1. be careful who your critics are
2. be specific
3. tell almost the whole story
4. put your ear close down to your soul and listen hard
Women Writers at Work is a compendium of invaluable conversations with literary lights as dazzling as Maya Angelou and Joyce Carol Oates. For even more writing wisdom, visit Andre Dubus III on writing as dreaming, not thinking, Elizabeth Gilbert on joy, curiosity & having the courage to rejoice in the marvels and mysteries of existence and Yiyun Li on seeing, staring & the necessity of looking closer.
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