“I don’t have a lot of advice to give. The one thing I would say to a young writer who wanted counsel is to be patient. Time, which is your enemy in almost everything in life, is your friend in writing. It is. If you can relax into time, not fight it, not fret at its passing, you will become better. You probably won’t be very good at the beginning, but you will become better, and eventually you may actually become good. But it doesn’t help to be afraid of time, or to measure yourself against prodigies like Conrad or Crane or Rimbaud. There’s always going to be somebody who did it better than you, faster than you, and you don’t want to make comparisons that will discourage you in your work. In fact, most fiction writers tend to graybread their way into their best work.”
— Tobias Wolff (The Paris Review, Fall 2004, Number 171).
I read this last night in a Tobias Wolff interview. It was in an old Paris Review journal I found at work. A kind soul left a box filled with literary journals in the lunch room, with a tag that said, “These need a new home!” I took a ton of them! They were fantastic journals, a lot of Ploughshares, Five Points, Crazyhorse, and Paris Review. The box was a treasure trove for me. It was like a gift from the world.
This blog may sound rather confessional and expressionistic, and I apologize for that.
Reading the Wolff interview helped me gain some perspective and clarity during this MFA application process. I realize now that I may have I applied prematurely and for validation. Sadly, both reasons make it a failure and a mistake. I shouldn’t have applied for validation. These past weeks have been difficult because I’ve questioned myself constantly and compared myself to others without context. I needed to stop myself and realize: I am a late bloomer in writing, and that is okay. I have many excuses (a lack of an adequate education or what not). But I do not write because I’m particularly skilled in the English language. It’s something I have to learn, something I have grasp and take hold of, something I must master. I started to write because I’ve experienced the world and it has left me wanting. I filled that want with reading, which taught me that I wasn’t alone in what I lacked or desired. I started to write because there are countless of stories in my soul, my belly, and I have to get them out. I write for myself, for I believe (foolishly believe) I have something of value to tell the world.
I have a greater hill to climb than other writers. I learn things slower. I pick up things slowly. I see structure and form in my own time. It took me a long time to admit this to myself, because I was so prideful. But, I’ve finally realized I shouldn’t be ashamed of my lack of precocity, because its absence forms who I am. I work hard for something because I believe in it, without apology. I may fall, countlessly, but I pick myself up. That is who I am. I may be weak. And there may be people out there who will constantly berate me for that. I’ve met them, and their words still keep me up at night. Their fighting words have sparked something in me to prove them wrong, prove myself wrong. I am relentless when it comes to something I love. I do not give up. I may never become a Hemingway, O’Connor, Carver, or Eliot. But through my failures, I see something about the world that others may miss. I see it and I embrace it, and that is why I write.