I firmly believe that getting a four-year (or six-year) education in Journalism or Writing is time and effort better spent elsewhere. If my graduate self could have had a beer or two with my new freshman self the single piece of advice I would have imparted was that a good editor can teach you all you need to know about writing in a few weeks. The rest is all practice.
That is why James Rhodes’ piece (via Zen Pencils, thank Gav) resonates with me. What he says about playing the piano directly links to writing a novel.
What if you could know everything there is to know about playing the piano in under an hour (something the late, great Glenn Gould claimed, correctly I believe, was true)? The basics of how to practise and how to read music, the physical mechanics of finger movement and posture, all the tools necessary to actually play a piece—these can be written down and imparted like a flat-pack furniture how-to-build-it manual; it then is down to you to scream and howl and hammer nails through fingers in the hope of deciphering something unutterably alien until, if you’re very lucky, you end up with something halfway resembling the end product.
Rhodes goes on to deliver what I consider a dangerous piece of advice for writers:
What if rather than a book club you joined a writer’s club? Where every week you had to (really had to) bring three pages of your novel, novella, screenplay and read them aloud?
Why is that dangerous? While writing groups are good for shaming you into producing work to read at the weekly sessions they can bury you in worthless advice from people who don’t know more than you do. The only opinions concerning your work worth a tinker’s damn are those of people willing to, based upon their evaluation of your writing, cut you a check. Never trust family members, close friends or the random stranger when they tell you how good you are. They have an agenda, a good one, but an agenda nonetheless.
Be suspect, as well, of criticism you pay for. I have received good and bad advice from agents and writers more published than myself over the years. Learn to tell the difference.
Rhodes concludes with a reference to the title of his essay.
The government is cutting music programmes in schools and slashing Arts grants as gleefully as a morbidly American kid in Baskin Robbins. So if only to stick it to the man, isn’t it worth fighting back in some small way? So write your damn book. Learn a Chopin prelude, get all Jackson Pollock with the kids, spend a few hours writing a Haiku. Do it because it counts even without the fanfare, the money, the fame and Heat photo-shoots that all our children now think they’re now entitled to because Harry Styles has done it.
Charles Bukowski, hero of angsty teenagers the world over, instructs us to “find what you love and let it kill you”. Suicide by creativity is something perhaps to aspire to in an age where more people know Katie Price better than the Emperor concerto.
My own best advice: be willing to walk down Main street naked.