Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My response to the Stephen Elliott interview at The Days of Yore

Cheryl Strayed posted a link on Facebook to an interview with Stephen Elliott of The Rumpus on a site that features interviews of artists "about the years before they have money, fame, or road maps to success" and "inspires you find your own." Your own money? Fame? I would guess your own road map to success? Anyway I thought it was an interesting interview.

He says this:
I realized there were two types of writers. There were writers that started at a young age because they had something in them that had to come out. These were the spoken word poets, people that…. were writing because they had this scream inside of them and they had to get it out in such a way that someone else would receive it. That doesn’t mean they loved to read. They might. They may or may not have even been interested in other people’s screams. But this is where it came from, their urge to write.

Then there’s this other group of people that, usually in high school, first year of college, they read something that impacts them so much that they want to be part of that tradition. More often, I think you see them in MFA programs. They love literature, so they want to be writers.

One is not better than the other. People come from different places. I was coming out of a need to communicate, because I was in an abusive home and lived in group homes for years, and I didn’t have anybody to tell. That’s always been why I’ve written, to communicate, not because I loved literature.
I’m trying to decide if I disagree with this, or if I’m just afraid that I’m the other kind of writer, not the kind that had something in them. But… maybe some of us are both, somehow. I think I do disagree. I don’t like pronouncements like “there are two types of writers.” I think there are as many types of writers as there are writers. Or almost as many. Also, the stuff I read that impacted me, I read younger than my final year of high school. I always think of Horatio Alger. Except that might not have impacted me in the “I want to be a writer” way. But somewhere along the way, reading Alger and Dylan Thomas and Beverly Cleary and Roald Dahl and Tennessee Williams, I decided (realized? understood?) that being a writer was the best thing. You got to make up stories, make up people and actions and places. I’m sure I also had things in me that had to come out, but I also wanted to be a part of the tradition of Dickens and Ntozake Shange. Traditions. Later stuff impacted me, but so did earlier stuff. And I was a writer before the end of high school.

I might have kept writing because of later stuff that happened. Writing might not have stayed as important to me if my dad hadn’t killed himself, if I hadn’t needed that outlet. Except I think it would have.

Elliot also says:
What we think of as talent is actually just the desire to sit alone and write every day. I had my reasons for writing. Other people have their reasons. People write and write for years, and the ones who do it continually every day achieve the ability to communicate their own aesthetic vision.
This makes sense to me. I have known many very "talented" people who quit writing, making art, playing music, doing what they were so good or promising at. I have known a few who kept on keeping on, and some of them are successful now. If you quit, it doesn't matter how much initial promise (talent) you had. If you keep doing it, that initial promise does matter, but you might just trump a lack of initial promise by dedication and perseverance. And luck.

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