1. Writing programs aren’t for everybody. They’re good for networking, which can help a little with publishing opportunities (scarce) and teaching jobs (scarcer). And they can be a source of inspiration, mostly via surrounding yourself with other talented and ambitious writers (many of whom are better than you). They’re mostly a good way to retreat from the world, at least a little bit. Sometimes that’s useful. But for a lot of people they can be traumatic and/or tedious, a waste of time and money. It’s fine if you go to one and it’s fine if you don’t. It’s probably a good idea to think of it as an indulgence. Indulging yourself is okay. Sometimes it’s exactly what you need to be doing. But not always.
2. It’s not necessary for someone else to read most of what you write. One of the insidiously bad things about writing programs is that they set up the expectation that everything you write will be read and responded to. That expectation has to be transcended or your writing life will die upon graduation. Gertrude Stein (who didn’t go to a writing program) said she wrote for herself and strangers. Okay. I held that view for a long time too. I’ve just eventually found that focusing on the strangers (on any “audience,” strangers or otherwise) is a bad idea.
3. Writing isn’t a subject matter. There’s no quadratic equation. It can be taught, but mostly it’s self-taught. It is, in fact, a mode of self-teaching.
4. Writing is an act of connection. An “audience” is only one means of connection. Writing connects us to our passions, interests, thoughts, the world around us. Most of all, it connects us to our own way of thinking.
5. Writing doesn’t have to be hard. Writing for an “audience” is what makes writing seem hard.
6. Writing doesn’t have to be good. What makes writing hard is thinking it has to be good; that is, “good” by somebody else’s standards. Forget the audience. You probably don’t have one. That’s an advantage. Use it.
7. Writing is thinking. Already said this but it’s worth reiterating. Also worth noting: most of us think in distortions. Your writing probably isn’t good most of the time because your thinking isn’t good most of the time. Don’t worry about that. Worrying about that is not the point.
8. Intention is overrated. It’s never what you think it is, what you wanted it to be. The weirdness and distortion in it is instructive. It might tell you what you were really thinking. It might not.
9. Authorship isn’t writing. Authorship requires a skill set that many writers don’t come by naturally. Extroversion, self-advocacy, capitalism, confidence. Authorship is required to build an audience. Authorship can be learned, but you really have to want it. And even then, the trappings of authorship (i.e., an audience) might still be hard to come by.
10. Reading (well) is hard. If you write things that are difficult to read, most people can’t understand it and won’t enjoy it, even if it’s “good.” If it’s “good,” some people will enjoy it. But not a lot of people. Kafka and Kierkegaard died relatively obscure. So will most of the rest of us. Do it anyway.