A Realistic Portrait of A Writer

When I was younger, I had this romantic idea of what a writer was. There was magic in reading; there was magic in the worlds that existed between the cover, and writers were the Gods who spun that magic into being. I wanted to be a writer not because I too wanted to be a “God,” but because I wanted to create that feeling for others—that magic and that little voice in the back of a reader’s mind that thinks “Holy shit, someone actually gets it.”

Next week, I’ll be meeting with debut author Kim Fu before her reading at Powell’s, so I started doing a little more research about Kim, whose book For Today I Am A Boy came out earlier this week and has already been selected by Barnes and Noble for this year’s Discover Great New Writers program. A lot of what Kim had to say struck a chord with me, but two things stuck: 1. Being a writer is mundane, not magical. 2. To be a successful writer, you can’t hole up in your house forever typing away. You have to build a network.

1. Okay. I guess writing is a tiny bit magical. When I said writers were Gods, I was being awfully blasphemous, but, in a way, writers are a bit like Gods. They create worlds. They create lives. They can decide when those lives end, and if you’re George R.R. Martin, that’s about every other page. But the actual process isn’t that beautiful. According to Kim Fu, here’s what writing looks like:

“Someone parks their butt in a chair, stares at a blank computer screen, and slogs through.”

But I would add to that. Writers, like most freelancers I know, more than likely haven’t even gotten out of their pajamas half the time they sit in that chair, or ran a brush through their hair. Their eyes feel dry, puffy, and red because of how long they’ve stared at the screen—a headache may even start forming. And more often than not, the words that they’ve put down on the page are complete crap. They cut it from the story, chalking it up to the words that gave them the momentum to keep going, or, in some cases, they may abandon the story before they can even finish it, already realizing it isn’t going to work. That brilliant idea that came to them in a dream wasn’t as amazing in the daylight. That’s the writing process.

2. With all that writing, rewriting, and revision, it’s easy to forget about the world. You know, the world that doesn’t exist in your mind or on those pages—the real one that’s just outside your door. Before I got more serious about writing and before I entered grad school, I thought that once you could get through the mundane part and had a completed manuscript that the hard part was over. You got a large manilla envelope, stuffed your manuscript inside, and sent it off to publishers and agents. Then the waiting began. Writing this way and getting published this way is definitely a possibility, but it’s the hard way. Reaching your goal may be more difficult without building a network. According to Kim:

“Writing alone in your house and sending big yellow envelopes out into the void might get you there eventually, but it will be a longer, lonelier road.”

By network, I mean other writers, for one. Writing is competitive. It’s easy to view other writers as the enemy, but that kind of view won’t get you far. Other writers, published or not, have much advice and wisdom to give each other. It’s so easy to lose sight of your own work—what’s working and what’s not. Joining a workshop group is extremely beneficial. Other writers have pointed out things in my writing that I would have never noticed otherwise. If you’re in college still or have enough funds to take a class for fun, a creative writing course or workshop can be a great refresher and invigorate you as you continue that piece you’ve been working on. But if you find yourself unable to get out of bed and those pajamas, there are many online writing workshops too. My Writers Circle is a good one, but these guys are serious and critical, so be prepared.

Apply to a MFA program and mingle with your professors (who are writers too). Many of them know literary agents, or can put you in touch with someone who does. If you work hard and they see potential in your work, your professor might be able to introduce you to someone who can help with the publishing process.

Become a part of the literary community. Living in Portland and attending PSU’s book publishing program has put me in touch with so many different members of that community. I’ve met agents, editors, designers, freelancers, writers, poets. And all of them have something to teach. All of them have something to offer.

In short, remember what writing is, and let go of your preconceived notions. Be willing to share your work with others. Be willing to toss it out. Be willing to grow.

If you have a question for Kim Fu that you’d like me to ask, please feel free to write it below.

Tell Us What You Think.