“We are alive, we have time to tell stories. This is an incredible, beautiful luxury,
though it’s hard to do.”
“Be different, be smart, be the future, accept the torch that’s been passed down to you.”
One-day writing conferences are a lot like one-day classics on the professional cycling circuit: They’re intense and demanding, but also exhilarating and inspiring. You can come away with fresh ideas, new strategies, and a renewed appreciation for the writing life. All of these were in abundance when my Write Group friends and I attended the William Paterson University’s “Spring Writer’s Conference.” For me, a highlight of the day was hearing keynoter Porochista Khakpour: An award-winning novelist, most recently of The Last Illusion, Porochista has crafted a writing life around fiction, journalism and teaching. Some of her advice and insights:
“Be patient:” Writing and reading take time. Too often, writers in a hurry to make their mark produce work that’s “undercooked.” Slow down, give your work time to develop, don’t buy into the “culture of anxiety” and distraction.
“Leave your house:” Many aspiring authors “latch onto the Emily Dickinson model of writing”– they believe that living an isolated, limited life is essential to pursuing their craft and that they must choose between being an introvert or an extrovert as a way of living. And yet, being fully engaged in the world offers a fuller, more enriching choice. But, as Porchista puts it, “the living part of writing is also important….” As writers, one of our jobs is to live life fully and share what we’ve seen. “A writer must be the type of person who’s just as interested in talking to a taxi driver as to another author….Talk to people. We’re all on this journey together.”
“Writing doesn’t always come from the purest of places:” Some books, including Porchista’s first novel, are written from a place of anger and even negativity. But, as she notes, negativity often springs from idealism and a desire to change the status quo and make things better. “We can’t pretend to be sages and prophets” — don’t be afraid to share the darker side of yourself; there can be honesty and powerful energy in this impulse.
“Help luck along:” Much of the battle of writing and being published rests on being in the right place at the right time. But there are ways we can make ourselves luckier. We can have an openness to learning and adventure, we can value that part of ourselves that’s the best of our attributes and express that in our work, we can position ourselves in ways that make it more likely our work will be seen.
“Guilt and anxiety are the killers of art:” Porochista reads every day, but added that she’ll “never be a writer who writes every day.” Feeling guilt and anxiety about our writing process, whatever it is, is one of the ways that we sabotage ourselves. Embrace your way of working –and slow down and take time. Bravo, Porochista — write on!