Advice for writers (if you can’t do anything else) – Liz Kay

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By Liz Kay

The first piece of advice I give to aspiring writers, the best advice I can give to aspiring writers, is to do anything, absolutely anything else.

There’s not a lot of money or job-security in writing, but that isn’t why. There’s not a lot of money or job-security in organic chicken farming either, but if you have the land and the interest enough to learn the know-how, then by God, I think you should try it.

The problem with writing is, you have to finish a thing before you know if it’s any good. You can spend years on a novel, and end up shoving it into a drawer. If you want to be good, you always have to be writing the thing that’s just beyond your ability to pull off. But you have to love it with your whole soul anyway. You have to be unreasonable, is what I’m saying. You have to count all the unhatched chickens and give them meaningful names.

Most people, I think, are not cut out for this peculiar mix of devotion and dread. Most people, I think, are not cut out for the possibility that after years and years, you may have to wring that novel’s neck.

The second piece of advice I give to aspiring writers is that writing doesn’t respond very well to being treated as a hobby.

This isn’t to say that you have to write full-time or that you have to get up every morning to write at dawn, though I know writers who do both. I also know writers who only write on weekends or during artists’ residencies or in the summer. I know writers who binge, scribbling out novels in weeks. I know writers who set a target word count for the day and power off their computer the minute they hit it. There are many ways to be a writer, and I’ve been all of them at times, but what never works is trying to sustain a project with scraps of leftover time and attention.

The third piece of advice I give to aspiring writers is closely related to the second in that there are times when the best thing you can do for your writing is to not do any writing. Sometimes this happens between projects. Sometimes it happens when you’re stuck on a chapter you just can’t crack. Sometimes it happens because life gets busy and the time you’ve got to give is just those leftover scraps. Whatever the reason, you and your writing are running on empty.

But there are lots of ways to be a writer that don’t involve a keyboard or a pen. Read books that inspire you and fill you up. Listen to music. Follow your obsessions and learn about silent film or beekeeping or the history of witch trials. Take up baking. Go for walks. Live a full life in the world so you have things to write about. Raise organic chickens if you have the land for it.


Liz Kay holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska, where she was the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is a founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and the journal burntdistrict. Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Nimrod, RHINO, Sugar House Review, and Beloit Poetry Journal, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets anthology. Her first novel, Monsters: A Love Story was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 2016 and is out in paperback now.

lizkay.net

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