Wednesday’s Writer: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love was not only a successful publishing feat, but it also made it big as a movie — maybe not one that men would go see, but it definitely gave women something to read about. For men, I’m sure the most intriguing factor is how Gilbert made it as a writer. We all want to know because that is what we are aiming for: to be paid writers. And if we can get a movie made out of our books, that would be nice as well. Upon visiting her website and reading her work, this is what she has to say about being a writer:
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Advice on Writing
1. Be a Bride to Writing: Whether you’re a man or a woman, Gilbert’s advice is to “marry” writing. Make it your main priority — not just a hobby. If you want to make it as a writer it has to be your first and only choice. Obviously, we all have to work to pay rent, but every hour in between must be spent on your craft. It goes without saying that if you want something bad enough, you have to work for it. Say your “I do’s” and let’s get on with the honeymoon.
2. Experience Life: Every writer begins with what he knows; if you don’t know anything, what are you going to write about? Travel and experience different worlds, cultures, food, people. Put flavor in your writing. One of the reasons Gilbert’s book was so popular was because it was centered on other countries and their distinct cultural flavors. Write about your experiences with marriage, divorce, children, traveling, teaching, being a police officer or a judge. Your work makes you unique, and there is a lot you have to say about it — so say it as eloquently and as frankly as you can.
3. Say No to MFA’s: Gilbert took some writing courses at NYU, but she felt that writing in a classroom is not the place for a writer married to writing. The best place to learn writing, to hone your skills as a writer are out in the world, not in a classroom with 30 other starving writers. Your degree should be in life and experience, not in classrooms and MFA’s. Although, (and this is my observation), with an MFA you can teach creative writing on the college level without having a PhD — and this can pay the bills while you write the Great American Novel.
4. Put Yourself Out There: Send your work out to magazines, newspapers, blogs, web sites, contests, agents and publishers. Your work is no good to you if it just sits in a file in your computer. For 8 years, I concentrated my efforts on one book, sending it only to agents when I was done with it. I did no other writing — it was my life’s work, I suppose. Today it is being shuffled around on an agent’s desk and being rejected by publishing houses, but it doesn’t hurt as much since I have been putting myself out there in other venues. Since I began blogging and discovering new sites in which to publish, I have been sending my work out quite frequently; I have been “published,” so to speak, and each day I get bolder and wiser, looking for bigger venues — ones that might actually pay me for my work.
5. Self-Forgiveness over Discipline: Everyone tells you that discipline is key to being published; Gilbert disagrees. Because we are creatures of habit and daily mistakes, we will not always choose discipline over a nap or a movie or coffee with a friend. And let’s face it, for those of us with kids, they tend to make like quite unpredictable for us. Forgiving yourself for not having discipline, for not writing one day or two, is more important. By self-forgiving, we are giving ourselves permission to be human and make mistakes — and this makes it easier for us to get back at the computer and start writing. No writer gets anything done with self-loathing stooped over her shoulders.
6. Stop Whining: If you’re a writer and you’re not published, don’t whine about it. Do something about it. Write more. Get better at it. By becoming writers or artists, we have chosen the hardest path; it’s an unsure and precarious one — but we chose it. So deal with it or do something else. Harsh advice, but true. There’s no whining in writing.
7. Get to Work: Write. Keep writing. Get better at it. Read more and pay attention to what your weaknesses are. I’m great at creating emotional situations and expressing my characters’s feelings, but I am no so attentive to setting or physical details in environments. I can see the places in my head, but I suppose I don’t have the architectural vernacular with which to describe places and buildings and streets. Therefore, when I read books, I pay careful attention to those details, learning something new — finding new ways of describing settings.
8. Never too Late to Start: There’s no age limit to when you can start writing books or poems. It’s not like modeling. People care about our creations, our words, our characters, not what we look like. My son is 8 and he has already written a 16 page book; I’m 40, and I didn’t begin writing seriously, for publication, until I was in my mid-thirties. Start young, or start old. It doesn’t matter. Just write.
9. Try Everything: I hate boxes and labels, and when people try to pigeonhole me, I get resentful. I fidget and toss and flail until I get out of those boxes. Genres are these boxes — these labels — and it’s OK to address them and to label your writing, but you don’t have to label the writer. Experiment with various genres until you find the one that best fits you — and if they all fit you, when then you’re a lucky writer. Now go submit them for publication.
10. Begin with Love: Since you’ve already decided to “marry” writing, you should be in love with writing – the process of writing and the act of writing. Write what you love, what you know, what you believe in with vehement adoration or even repulsion. My best writing is born out of my advocacy for young girls and their empowerment. The way girls are treated, worldwide, the way they are being sexualized, objectified, raped, sex trafficked, beaten and/or murdered, takes me back to a dark place in my childhood — a place of repulsion and loathing — and when I write about that, my writing is passionate and unrelenting. So find your love, your passion, and begin there. When you love your subject matter, your voice is powerful and undeniable. And it is sure to get you published.