Advice to a Young Writer

The Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah (whose debut story collection, An Elegy for Easterly, came out a few months ago) has some excellent advice for young writers on her blog. She writes:

A lot more people just want to know how they can be “real” , and that word keeps coming up, how they can be “real” writers. It is to these aspiring writers that I now reveal the secret to writing success.

Write.

That’s it.

Just write.

A writer is a person who writes.

Talent is overrated. Luck is overrated. The right agent is overrated. It helps to have all three, but they are all worthless without that thing in your hand, the manuscript, the thing in your hand that may become a book for which trees will die and that will be published and primped and pampered and put on bookshelves and paid for by people.

And this is what is underrated: the sitting down and grinding it out part. Because that is what writing is. You, at your computer or with your notebook, writing, and writing, revising and writing, and revising again.

This resonated with me because earlier this week, a student asked me for some career advice. I wasn’t sure what exactly she meant, and when I inquired it turned out she was very anxious because she felt that she should “put herself out there” and “try to get published.” She said that I was the only professor she had who never discussed publication or career in class. So she was curious. I told her that I didn’t discuss publication because I felt that the class should be spent on writing. I asked her how many stories she had written. The answer was: not very many. And so my advice to her was to write. I think I will also tell her to read what Gappah wrote.

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