In honor of the Shared Worlds teen SF/F writing camp, we asked this week’s panelist for writing advice…
Q: What was the best writing advice you received as a teenager/young adult, and who gave it to you? For bonus points, If you knew then what you know now about the writing life, would you have continued to pursue it? How much of a disconnect is there between your vision of the writing life and the reality of it?
Here’s what they said…
Karen Joy Fowler
Karen Joy Fowler
‘s The Jane Austen Book Club
spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times
bestsellers list and was a New York Times
Notable Book. Fowler’s previous novel, Sister Noon
, was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. Her debut novel, Sarah Canary
, was a New York Times
Notable Book, as was her second novel, The Sweetheart Season
. In addition, Sarah Canary
won the Commonwealth medal for best first novel by a Californian, and was short-listed for the Irish Times
International Fiction Prize as well as the Bay Area Book Reviewers Prize. Fowler’s short story collection Black Glass
won the World Fantasy Award in 1999. Fowler’s latest books include Wit’s End
and the upcoming collection What I Didn’t See
I wasn’t trying to be a writer as a young adult so no one was giving me advice about how to do it back then. What I was doing was a ton of reading, which turned out to be the best thing I could have been doing anyway. What was particularly good about my reading was that I hadn’t learned to make a distinction between one kind of book and another; I hadn’t ever told myself I liked one kind of book, but not another. So I read widely — books for children and for adults, poetry by Emily Dickinson and Garcia Lorca, The Lord of the Rings and Don Quixote and The Hunting of the Snark. I read hundreds of YA’s whose titles I’ve forgotten, but whose stories I still remember about high school proms and football teams and how to be popular. I read Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries, short story collections like Junior Miss and The Night the Bed Fell and collections of humor and horror. I read non-fiction like Men Against the Sea and Old Bones, the Wonder Horse, and historical biographies of all sorts. When I came to writing, many years later, I realized that I had unconsciously picked up techniques from all those sorts of books. And that I had no limiting vision of what I could or could do in any particular piece, although many tried to convince me otherwise. I had a good solid sense of there being no rules at all.
The best advice no one actually gave me was to read a lot of any and everything.
The thing I didn’t understand about the writing life was how public it can be. It looked very private when I imagined it — there you are, alone in your room, pulling images as fast as you can from that clown-car between your ears we call your brain. You need please no one, but yourself. I didn’t think at all about reviews and reader reactions and sales figures. I didn’t picture interviews and readings. The alone-in-your room part is still the part I like best.