I am home. I am at my desk with a view of the neighbor’s tree and its green leaves turned to gold. I have had my moment of wondering whether the last week really happened. (Do not worry, the size of my unread inbox quickly disabused me of that cliche)
There is a lot to be said for spending time in the company of intelligent people and discussing the thing that you all hold dear. The business of writing can be discussed on many levels: from the broad strokes of genre and distribution, to getting down and dirty in the trenches with the commas and semi-colons, there’s a lot to talk about and think about. Until this past week I had only the vaguest idea that some of these topics existed, let alone were important. But boy howdy is my brain full now. I feel like an anaconda digesting a hippo — there’s a lot to get through, but I have reason to hope that I’ll eventually get through it all, and once it’s through, I’ll… um… stop extending that metaphor, actually.
I’m not sure which of the valuable lessons I learned is the most valuable, but I think this one comes close: As a writer, everyone is your ally. Seriously. The editor you’re afraid of? Is on your side. Your readers? Are on your side. Everyone who picks up your story wants that story to be the best thing they ever read. Their time is valuable to them, and they like good stories. They are not looking for excuses to shoot you down, they are looking for excuses to like you. They will ignore imperfections, they will fill in gaps, they will rationalize and make excuses, they will stand on their fucking heads and squint if it lets them enjoy your story. But they can only do so much! The writer has a lot of heavy lifting to do. But there is absolutely no reason to fear editors and slush readers. You should instead try your level best to not let them down.
At VP, we wrote. We wrote for our fellow writers, people whose work we’d read and whose opinions we’d come to respect. We wanted to not let them down, and so we wrote day and night (and night and night) and we gave anguished cries when our sentences went clunk, and we bounced off the walls when we found that one clever thing that would make it finally fucking work. And the results were good, damned good, all good.
I suspect that this post will get one or two hits next January from a host of eager young writers of all ages who are wondering whether it’s worth the agony of application and the arduous journey to Martha’s Vineyard. The short answer is yes. The long answer depends on who you are, but the short version of that long answer is still yes.
Of course, it did break me as a reader. I woke up this morning, and grabbed a book that I’d been in the middle of when I left. A good book, a well-known one. I started reading… and then I reached for a pencil, because man, that one sentence just goes clunk. Oops.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.