Friday, September 28, 2012

How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 4

           One other suggestion about sustaining your work as a writer: don’t try to do too many things. I’m sure most of you have other talents besides writing. I know many writers who are very skilled at music or the visual arts. It’s possible to combine one or more of those arts with your writing and expand your range as an artist and the audience for your writing at the same time. For instance, you might make a film that showcases your poetry, or you might write songs as well as poems or short stories or nonfiction. But it’s a very rare person who can successfully pursue two arts seriously in one lifetime. I can only think of a handful of writers in the entire history of literature who have also excelled at other arts, at the level where their work in a second art is valued for its own sake, rather than as an interesting sidelight to their writing.
That doesn’t mean you should give up the other arts you practice and enjoy, but writing is not a discipline that you can learn to do well if you pursue it casually, like throwing a Frisbee. It’s a lifelong quest if you do it right, because a writer is constantly gathering information about life and craft. You have to continually make adjustments in how your write, based on life experiences and on the latest information you’ve gleaned from reading and writing. You’re always assimilating new experiences, social conditions, and influences. You don’t want to be a literary dilettante.
The word “dilettante,” means a person who dabbles, rather than pursues something seriously. It comes from the Latin dilettare, to delight in. You should delight in your writing, but you also have to work hard at it, and to do that, you have to be a specialist. You wouldn’t want to be operated on by an amateur surgeon, so why would you want to read the work of an amateur writer? Writing is your profession.
It’s great to be a sensitive person who loves art. But that’s not enough, if you want to be a writer. You have to be prepared to fail at your writing. Why fail? Because that’s how artists learn. A dilettante never fails. A dilettante just flits from one art or one project to another, without really improving his or her craft. As an artist, you need to fail in order to derive lessons from each misstep, until you discover how to create work that is worthy of an audience.

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