Do you have any advice for writers on the verge of graduating, and searching for the writing-related dream job?
The internet is a resource nobody had before us, and it’s democratizing in a lot of ways. But one of the ways in which it’s most helpful is that it forces you to think in terms of your brand, your integrity, your public behavior, your worth as a writer, your ability to cross the page from you to the person who is reading you.
And then you need to think about, if you were going to write for those people, how would you make them sit up and clap their hands.
Because it takes an ass to fill every seat, and nobody—least of all you—is too good for that kind of labor. The sooner you start thinking of yourself as a brand, a product, an army of one, the less it’ll hurt once you have to start chopping parts off.
And this tension arises from the fact that opposing even the most dazzling wordplay is, somewhere in there, an emotional truth that is greater than the sum of its gleaming parts, and this is something without an art, because it is without artifice. It is something naked, without any prior semiotic scaffolding around it, because it is a thought that a person has never expressed before, in the history of humans.
It is a feeling we all know, and recognize the minute we see it in your words, but which we never consciously knew about until that moment you revealed it. That is the measure you’re aiming for, and if it is, then go with God. Because if you’re going to play the trick, you need to earn it — not use it as a substitute for insight.
The tricks will not help you get there, because it’s blood magic. Any job done right is worth bleeding for, and this one is closer to crazy than almost anything else you could have picked for your calling. You cannot think yourself there, no matter how brilliant your big fat throbbing brain is, because there is always just past where that brain, those tricks, can take you: It’s a Dark Scary Forest, and your college career has been about staying on the path, getting gold stars for writing the best literary fiction.
Or, if you’ve chosen the other cliché—I did, I did both—going nuts, because that’s what artists supposedly do. Both of these are bullshit: All you’ve been learning are the skills and tools to make the rest of your life easier, not the secret to anything in particular. (There is no secret to anything in particular. Nobody ever goes in the same forest as anybody else. The only secret is that it will probably, hopefully, hurt.)
The tricks can help you express yourself — eventually — but until then, they are a wall of knives pointing toward yourself from yourself, because there is nothing that combats the fear of being vulnerable quite so well as the self-satisfaction of being clever. The first thing you do in the forest is start whistling, because you have something to prove — and the tricks are just another form of the same. For the same reason that the smartest crazy person stays the craziest — because the detours around the Dark Scary Forest are infinite in number and immeasurably useless — the best-trained academic tells the shallowest stories, and this is because she knows the tricks.
So you forget the tricks. They’ll come when called.
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