Maybe you’ve had a similar experience as me. I went to grad school to get my MFA, wrote shorts stories, got critiqued, and then looked for journals I should send them to only to get rejected.
Basically, I stopped writing all the time and wrote only a “little” throughout the ensuing years like that was okay!
But it wasn’t.
I was uninspired and it took me a long time to realize I needed to go find some more writing classes (say what?!) even though I had my MFA degree already.
It was one of best decisions I ever made and today I’m a proud member of two writers groups, which is where I get the inspiration I need for free!
I write blog posts, I self-publish my books on Amazon and I’m currently learning how to pitch screenplays to Hollywood.
I’m not spending thousands of dollars like I did during Grad School. I spend much less and I learn a lot more in writing classes I’ve discovered around town and in the community I live.
I’ll mention that one of the most important things I ever learned on writing happened a long time ago at a reading in New York put on by one of my favorite authors.
Tangent starts now….
Now, you should know I’m not one of those bloggers who thinks it’s okay to name drop without backing it up (It’s not okay. You could get sued, so don’t do it!), so I won’t tell you who this author was.
I waited in a long line to get this author’s autograph and when I finally had my chance to stand in front of him, all nervous like, I said, “Your writing has inspired me so much!”
He replied with a shrug, “Don’t thank me. Thank The Great Gatsby!”
I walked away embarrassed. What a weird thing to say to an adoring fan? Only after lots of time had passed did I realize the bomb he dropped on me.
Often I will find myself in a used book shop and will buy an old, yellowing copy of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ll put it on my bookshelf or on my computer desk where I write, so I can be reminded how to write a great book.
It’s reference. I’ll thumb through it. Maybe read a paragraph or two to see what I’m up against when I finally go to work on my own fiction.
This author ultimately taught me you have to study the “classics” or risk looking like an amateur when it comes to your own writing.
It sounds harsh, I know, but stick with me on this idea for a minute, will ya?
Have you ever read “Moby Dick?” You probably don’t remember this, but it was written in first person. It’s like the narrator or main character Ishmael is talking just to you while you both sit at a bar together.
“Moby Dick” has been made into umpteen movie versions. A common formula you will find every time you visit a Barnes and Noble; best sellers are advertised there on a table and on each book cover you see, Now a Major Motion Picture.
Is this a coincidence? No way, dude!
This is what people want to read today just like they wanted to read years and years ago, so technically nothing has changed when it comes to classic literature.
I don’t really want to argue with you about it, so keep writing in whatever style you want to, but honestly I can’t see how rereading a book like the “The Great Gatsby” could hurt.
We all took English classes in high school and college, so we already know what the classic titles are. Now, it’s time for all us “aspiring writers” to go back and reread them.
Get them at the library. Read them for free online. Get them at the used bookstore for cheap.
The “classics” are the tools you want to put in your “tool belt” to make you look like a seasoned professional. For example, you wouldn’t want a plumber without a tool belt on to fix your toilet would you? Not likely.
Reread and imitate classic books.
It’s the best way to end up writing a good book yourself, but most importantly, in the end, thank “The Great Gatsby” and not me!
Evan Hundhausen received his MFA in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He writes blog posts at DirtyFilthyDiscoTrash.com and his self-published short story collection, “Accelerated LearningTechniques for a Budding Sociopath: A Bunch of Short Stories,” can be found for sale on Amazon. Currently Evan spends his time writing for magazines, writing novels and even screenplays. See him DJ at djcola.net.