Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Writers - Live a Bit First!

To generalise wildly, the career path of most young (successful) writers goes something like this. Go to university – preferably Oxford or Cambridge – and read English. While there, start writing novel and get a few pieces published in the university magazine. Move to London after graduation, start a creative writing postgraduate degree and pick up some work reviewing books for the literary supplements while tidying up the fourth draft of your novel. You then get your novel published, which gets a few kind reviews thanks to the contacts you've made and sells precisely 317 copies. ... But someone, somewhere offers you a contract to write a second novel and your career is up and running. From then on you have a meta life. You write because you write, not because you necessarily have anything interesting to say. You probably actually write quite well, but you are trading on style, not substance, because you've never actually done anything much beyond writing.
John Crace on The Guardian blog argues, quite rightly (and with reference to J.G. Ballard who had served his time in the real world) that too many literary writers are seriously lacking in life experience. And yes, it shows.

So wannabes, go out and live a bit!


Anonymous said...

Not necessarily true. Depends on the individual. I know of people who are above the age of sixty without the necessary life experience. Old age and wisdom do not go hand in hand. I know of some people in their twenties with lots of wisdom.

bibliobibuli said...

we're talking about life experience here and that doesn't necessarily go along with age, does it?

Anonymous said...

i think there's the usual double bind here:

if you lack experience then it means you are less burdened by tradition and have a certain energy for novelty.

but if you have experience then you have a greater ability to create something deeper and more considered.

- burhan

Yusuf Martin said...

This is exactly what I and many other have been saying - get a life, then write, otherwise there is no depth to your writing.

All the great and good writers wrote out of their lives, not M.A. creative writing.

Apologies to those who disagree....but its my opinion.

Damyanti said...

I think it works both ways.

Yes, a creative writing degree without enough life experience can make for shallow writing.

On the other hand, a person might have profound life experiences, and never want to write about it.

Writing since a tender age gives you the craft, and then you have to
age in order to give you depth.

But then again, there is the instance of Keats, and a hundred others who don't fall into this category either.

Yusuf Martin said...

Damyanti I think it was Sharon who made the point above, that experience has little to do with age.

It is experience that you need to write well, and you can get that while also being younger, but also comes with age.

Too many modern writers write well, as that is their craft, but have too little experience to draw upon.

It is the coupling of experience with good writing that makes a writer good, or even great.