Writing the Midwest: On what writers wish they’d known

“Writing the Midwest” is a recurring series featuring writing advice from today’s most prolific authors. Whether it’s dealing with writer’s block, knowing when a piece is finished, or how and where to find inspiration, we’re delighted to present to you the very best guidance to help you and your writing. You can find links to the authors’ full interviews below.

On what writers wish they’d known:

Rae Meadows: This is not one thing but these all relate to a lack of confidence: no one has it figured out; no one cares if you write or not so you better write for yourself; trust your gut; it’s not a race; the day your book comes out is the same as the day before; when you finish a book you have to start again and write another one.

Peter Grandbois: What I didn’t realize, and what I wish someone would have said—though I probably wouldn’t have listened—is to remember that there is no rush. There’s so much pressure now to get your work out into the world, to publish so you can get into grad school, to publish so you can get a job, etc. I think that’s created a tendency to flood the market with a whole lot of work that isn’t as good as it could be. I work as senior editor for Boulevard, one of the top literary magazines in this country, and, I should say, one of the most important Midwestern magazines, as it’s based in St. Louis. In my work as an editor, I see lots and lots of good stories that don’t quite make it because the writer didn’t take enough time to make it a great story, i.e. to make it work on every level: language, character, subtext, etc. Writers settle for finding a cool voice or an interesting idea and think that’s enough to make a great story, and it isn’t. So, I would say, slow down. You’re building a model ship. Take your time. Make sure each piece is in place. I know this is easier said than done, especially coming from someone who is now on the other side with a tenured position, but slow down. It’s about the work. Making it as good as it can be. Listening to it even when you thought you were done listening to it. There are few things in this world that mean a lot. Capitalism has demeaned so much of our humanity. Great writing still means everything. At least to me. It’s not about writing a million copy best seller. It’s about saying something true and saying it well. It’s about reaching just one reader. To do that, you’ve got to slow down.

Gary Amdahl: I wish I had known that it was more important, and healthier for both body and soul, to write what I could write, and not worry about what I couldn’t write.

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