If you want to write, here’s the most important bit of advice I can give you: The best reason to write is for the love of it. Love is literature’s essential ingredient. If you are concerned with the quality of your writing, striving for publication or recognition, you may think this sounds simplistic. But listen to David Foster Wallace in an interview with Larry McCaffery:
I’ve gotten convinced that there’s something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn’t have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent… Talent’s just an instrument. (more…)
John Gardner writes that we read for “the pleasure of exercising our capacity to love.” Having been an English major, I find this idea slightly challenging. Don’t we also read to see the world from others’ eyes or to learn about history or as a social critique or to have our beliefs turned on their heads? Don’t we read to be entertained? To escape?
But when I think back to my first and best experiences of reading (in grade school, when I spent summers on the back porch with my nose in some Newbery Award winning novel and my whole being transported to worlds more contained and extravagant than my own), they were saturated with love. And if I’m honest, all my lofty academic reasons for pursuing an English major were cover-up for a plain old love of reading. (more…)
Last weekend I carpooled to a center in Wisconsin to attend a retreat (at a place where I led a writing retreat last February, where I’ve felt capable and respected, and where there’s space for me to grow) and had the peculiar experience of walking through the front entrance into a wall of self-doubt: Who are YOU to think you should be here? To pose as a seeker?! What a fraud.
The messages were so bizarre they caught my breath. Of course I’ve heard such critical voices thousands of times, but never so palpably or at such a ludicrous moment. Although I didn’t know this going in, the retreat’s focus was the superego, that voice of criticism and self-attack whose sole purpose is to maintain the status quo. The superego had met me at the door—with force.
In the three days since returning, I’ve been bowled over by how many people have shared with me (with no prompting on my part) that they feel like frauds. It plagues artists, for whom there’s always some level of public recognition to strive for that might finally affirm our worth; it plagues leaders, who must stand in front of people who will inevitably question their authority; it plagues parents, who feel they should know what they’re doing and don’t. Is there anyone who doesn’t at some point feel fraudulent?! (more…)