Peter Carey the writer of the post nanowrimo pep talk, presents advice to the participants who want to take their writing to the highest level. He provides some fundamental and important advice for writers. As a successful and rather prolific writer, Carey is highly qualified to give this sort of soap-box speech.
He suggests that a writer who wants to produce works that will garner reviews and end on the book store shelves must write daily and must consider writing to be the most important act of the day.
Additionally, he speaks to the loneliness of the craft, confessing to his many lonely sessions of editing and rewriting – this is how I remember the email – and speaking to the strength of will required to believe in yourself, as a writer, when you are working alone…all the time.
His advice is practical; encouraging but serious. It is fundamentally oriented, fundamental in the sense that the advice concerns what must be practiced, what must be routine to achieve success and to write at a professional level. You must edit. You must write daily. You must be willing to take criticism and to rework what you have written. You must read. You must not watch television.
You must not watch television? Does this strike you as a bit anachronistic, given the series of positive practices he had outlined?
It strikes me as odd and out of place, and also wrong.
I do not take issue with the substance of his criticism, only with the surface. In essence he is telling writers to make time for reading. TV is not at the center of his message, reading is.
In this I agree entirely. Reading is necessary. It is a must for serious writers.
Screen narrative fits into the writer’s life somewhere too. Doesn’t it?
All of his other advice seems “spot on” to me. Regularity, patience, perseverance; wide, deep and critical reading; self-will and the abilities to self-criticize and accept criticism all seem, to me, to be the corner-stones of practical writing advice. The writer who succeeds will possess these traits and practice these habits.
But I don’t think television has to be cut out.
Carey makes a bold statement. He writes that people who watch television are not serious about being real, honest-to-goodness writers. They are either fooling themselves or they are content with writing as a “side line”. I am paraphrasing here, but in no way am I exaggerating or misconstruing his message.
Television as it exists today is not necessarily helpful to the process of writing or to a writer’s improvement. It is not necessarily harmful either.
If a person watches television with an eye/ear to the writing behind a show, television can actually be instructive.
Personally, I don’t watch television regularly. I have zero channels and no cable. I do have Netflix though and I subscribe to the film delivery program in part because I am a writer. Specifically I am an aspiring novelist.
The structure and story-telling of literate film is really a great source of ideas, a well-spring of inspiration and a touch-stone of themes from 1900 to today.
Again, not all film will help me write better novels. However, watching films will not necessarily keep me from improving my writing.
The nanowrimo writer suggested that watching television means the viewer will not read.
I watch several movies a week and a read two novels a month. I’m talking Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Dostoyevsky, and Saul Bellow. You can look at the books and authors I’ve written about on my AC page. As many existential and personal doubts as I do maintain in my life, my dedication to reading is not in question.
I read, damn it.
And I watch movies.
And my writing continues to improve.
I am a morning writer. If Peter Carey is a night writer and a night reader who must choose between screen narrative and literary narrative, then I am sorry for him. This dichotomy is not absolute. There is not an absolute division between the interests of high literature and screen narrative.
It is possible to read, to watch screen narratives, to learn from both, and to write with the highest of ambitions.
Perhaps nanowrimo guy just wishes he could relax a bit now and then. Hey man, you don’t have to consider all your values compromised because you take time out to watch a basketball game or a movie.
Watch. Then write about it.
Literate film suggestions: Through a Glass Darkly (Bergman), Network (Lumet), Persona (Bergman), Ran (Kurasawa), Raging Bull (Scorcese), Contempt (Godard), Wild Strawberries (Bergman), The Seventh Seal (Bergman).
Check these titles on www.imdb.com.