Friday, December 17, 2010

Do What You Do Well

On the other hand, continuing with my last post about story being the poor cousin to other elements of fiction and beautiful prose being sort of the prince or princess among them, if I could write beautiful prose, I would. I think I can write clever prose. There are many excellent writers who write great and powerful books whose language is not extraordinary. It’s always good, mind you, but not the main way they get their power. I would say that’s true of most writers really.

I think what you have to do is figure out what you do well and make that work for you. I think what bothered me in graduate school was how many of my classmates focused on language to the neglect of story and other elements of fiction. The truth was maybe one or two could write beautiful prose (and this was in a large group of talented writers). Most just didn’t have that gift. But instead of struggling to develop what gifts they did have they got caught up on language because that was what all the teachers praised most.

I was lucky. I got more than my share of praise and attention in my MFA program. But I think sometimes teachers and others might actually slow down development. Yes, we always have to try new things as writers. Yes we have to push ourselves. But we are what we are, too. Whatever talents or skills we can use to make our writing powerful and entertaining should be used.

And with that I wish you good writing and a happy holiday. I’m taking a little blog break until after New Years.

If you’re bored and looking for some writer talk, here’s a new page on my website with blog interviews I’ve done recently on Aliens and Writing. http://www.brianyansky.comblog-tour2010.html

Finally, I thought I’d try asking if any of you have questions or topics you’d like me to write about. I’d be happy to give my two cents on any topic I’ve got two cents worth of comments to make. Leave a comment here or at any future post or email me at if any topics or questions come to mind.

Thanks for reading,



Catherine Stine said...

I agree with you about the emphasis in grad school on lofty prose over a good, fast-paced (and marketable) plot. I was lucky to sell my MFA thesis (Refugees), though very little emphasis in our workshops was put on plotting, or how one might survive and even thrive as a writer after the workshops were over.

If I were designing an MFA program, it would include a few meaty lesson plans on plotting, marketing, ways to make $ between books.

On the flip side, an author can write unadorned, Chekhovian prose, but it still has to shine.

So yes, definitely develop your own particular chops, whether they be in plotting, style of prose, or in subject matter.

Brian Yansky said...

Very thoughtful comment. And, yep, Chekhov is a great example of a writer who writes simple sentences and creates complex characters and stories. That actually makes me think that my idea of "beautiful" writing as the kind of long, complicated sentences in much of the work popular today is too narrow. I do think minimalist writing can be just as striking. The fashion of the sentence as minimalist or chock full of everything it can possibly contain does change periodically. Congrats on publishing Refugees and on your other publications--I see there are a few.

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