Write, Read, Learn

I hate to admit that the Amazon algorithm pegged me hard on a book suggestion titled Conversations with Octavia Butler edited by Consueula Francis. We all want to think we’re better than the Amazon algorithm, but are we really? This book is a collection of interviews with Octavia Butler by various radio programs and magazines from 1980 to her death in 2006. So yup, it knew exactly what I wanted to read. Damn you, Amazon!!

When I’m reading someone’s work or appreciating what they’ve created, I want to know more about how they approached it. There was an interview conducted by John C. Snider in 2004 for SciFiDimensions (I tried to find a copy online so I could link to it, but sadly couldn’t). It was an excellent interview, and I was thrilled when he asked her, “What kind of advice do you have for up-and-coming writers?” I’ll share her answer in a moment. She’d answered similar questions in other interviews, others had asked how she got into writing and her opinion of group critique workshops and all that jazz, but this was my favorite answer. Much of this interview was about her thought on the current state of Science Fiction and what she thought the future held.

Here is the answer Octavia Butler gave to the question of advice:

“I know a lot of people are where I was several years ago when I was getting started with writing, wondering how they might get started as writers. And I have this little litany of things they can do. And the first one, of course, is to write—every day, no excuses. It’s so easy to make excuses. Even professional writers have days when they’d rather clean the toilet than do the writing. Second, read every day.”

It’s a good reminder. The goal is there every day, and little steps each day get you closer to that goal. It’s tough right now as things start to open up to stay focused. I know I got used to having the extra time of fewer commitments to getting things done. Now I feel torn with anxiety and excitement as life is picking up again.

“Read voraciously and omnivorously, whatever’s out there. You never know what’s gonna grab you.”

Yup, read. It seems obvious enough, but I have people who talk to me about wanting to be a writer, and they hate reading. Why would you want to write if you don’t like to read? It’s like working for a TV show when you hate TV.

“Third, for people who aren’t doing it already, take classes—they’re worthwhile. Workshops or classes—a workshop is where you do actually get feedback on your work, not just something where you go and sit for a day. A workshop is a way of renting an audience, and making sure you’re communicating what you think you’re communication. It’s so easy as a young writer to think you’re being very clear when in fact you haven’t. Those are some of the suggestions I give to my young writers.”

I’m all in. I love a good workshop or class. I’m excited that a writing workshop I was supposed to attend in MT last summer was rescheduled to this one. I keep crossing all my fingers and toes that nothing gets in the way of it this year.

Butler also discussed her frustrations and the break she was taking from writing the third installment of the Parable series. Her health and other issues were getting in the way. Up until that interview, she kept hinting at this next book called Parable of the Trickster. I’ve read other articles and essays of people’s thoughts around the drafts and research she did for Trickster. She just couldn’t seem to get the foothold on it. But, to be fair to her, in earlier interviews, she talked about her struggles to get into Sower as well. She took a poetry workshop to get her juices flowing, and that poetry became the verses of Book of the Living. She also admitted to being a slow writer (I can relate). She also had dyslexia which probably added to her how long it took her to write (I can also relate as a fellow dyslexic). If she had finished Trickster before her death, people wouldn’t have overanalyzed ad nauseam what was going on with that one book any more than any other. I think it’s less of a critique and more of a tribute that people have taken the time to do such deep dives into trying to figure out what she wanted to create.

I spent a class this past week talking to my students (adults in incarceration whom I teach job skills) about the idea of master craftsman and apprentices. Throughout time, older people who have “mastered” something have taught younger people who then continue it forward. Although there is debate around the ability to master writing, and I get that, but I still love learning how other people approach their craft. I may not do everything everyone else does, or I’d never get anything done, but her advice is do simple and straight forward…

Write

Read

Learn

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