Friday, January 21, 2011


Everybody has one!

Anis Shivani has posted his reactionary advice to writers over at Huffington Post.

I don’t always disagree with Shivani. In fact, we have occasional cordial exchanges on facebook. And isn’t that an absolutely wonderful thing to say: “We have occasional cordial exchanges on facebook.”

Anyway, I think his advice is terrible here, mostly because he’s not followed it himself. If one is offering advice it shouldn’t be obviously hypocritical. It doesn’t take more than a 20 second google search to see how he’s violated numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. I’m not mentioning 3, 9, and 10 only because I don’t know him well enough to know.

1. Disobey the System.

2. Ignore Publicity.

3. Shun Crowds.

4. Seek Unemployment.

5. Converse Only with the Classics.

6. Refuse Recognition.

7. Don't Pursue a Niche.

8. Aim for Zero Audience.

9. Accept Failure.

10. Think Small.

First off, written out like this it’s pretty funny. A nice bit of satire. Until I realized he was serious. Or 99% serious, as he said when I wrote and asked him about it.

So far, his Manifesto of Obscurity has garnered him 250 or so comments. Enough said about the whole thing.

But why I’m writing about this is that it got me to thinking about the system of Advice to Writers that is everywhere around us. We love to ask and we love to answer. I’ve done a little of both myself, even as I really hate telling people what to do. Seriously, if you know me, you know I’m speaking about a core behavior of mine: I hate telling people what to do.

All that said, here is my stab at offering advice to writers:

1. Figure out what you want to do. Shivani’s advice is good advice to a certain type of writer. You can quickly deduce what type of writer by reading the comments to his post. There are many reasons why someone creates art, and since there are many reasons why someone creates art, there are many ways one should proceed. This is a two-fold bit of advice. What some people want to do is to publish a book. Some want to be thought of as a writer. Some want to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize (and not posthumously). These different goals will entail different steps to accomplish. Any of these goals can be accomplished with or without taking classes (at a university, college, or city writing group), but taking classes does give you a group who are forced to talk with you about your writing.  That might be helpful, no matter what your goals are.  Even if your goal is to loathe writers and writing groups, it might be good to meet them. You might even find some kindred spirits with whom you can form an anti-group group.  Maybe on facebook. 

2. Do what you want to do. Why would you do anything else? Well, it all goes back to “what do you want to do”? If what you want is to write poems, say, then it’s pretty easy: write poems. If you want to publish those poems you have to send them out to places that publish poems. Then, of course, you have the difficulty of other people. Why should they want to publish your poems? Shivani takes something of the Bukowski approach: be a rather terrible person, then you will become something that makes people notice you. There are other ways, though. You could see how you want to write or how you’re writing, then find places that publish the sort of writing you do. Then you send your poems to them. Or, you can see the sort of writing people like in a certain venue (journal, press, city writing group) and try to write like that. Or, as a final option, you can find out who the people are who publish things (or are in charge of things in your city) and you can try to flatter them or befriend them, if you think that works. Some people swear that it does.


All you have to do is decide why you want to write, and what you want from writing; then actualize it (To use one of those marketing terms that I rather dislike.). As disturbing and creepy as that sounds, it doesn’t need to be. If what you want to do is make art, make art. After that, you have to decide what to do with it. But, seriously, you should always strive to be a good person. You have a better life that way. And your children will like you.

And dress appropriately for the weather.


At 1/21/2011 11:56 AM, Anonymous BDR said...

Decemberists? Dude.

At 1/21/2011 12:01 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That was last post. I've moved on.

At 1/21/2011 12:54 PM, Blogger Jeannine said...

I've noticed those who give the loftiest-sounding advice often fail to apply it to their own lives...

At 1/21/2011 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's like that essay in Poets on Poetry (ed. Wilkinson) by Kent Johnson, but without the tonal complexity.


11. Remember that the greater part of it is merely show and acquired manners. Poets can be mean and will try to kill you.

- Chris

At 1/21/2011 4:59 PM, Anonymous Margaret said...

All his advice boils down to this: withdraw from the contemporary world and immerse yourself in your private weirdness and the best writing of the past. There's nothing new or outrageous about that. If you converse with the classics, you know that Rilke said pretty much the same thing in his letters to Kappus.

At 1/21/2011 5:08 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And now, in the new equation, Rilke gets to be part of the best writing of the past.

(The irony being, even then, that for Kappus to be seeking out Rilke he's already violating the rule . . .)

At 1/21/2011 7:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Therefore one must, as an authentic poet, seek out the Kappuses--even those who don't know yet that they're Kappuses. I use the telephone book (yes, it still exists) and send random letters of lyric explanation and encouragement to people whose addresses I find therein. A little Old School, I know, but I like to think it's preserving the best of me for posterity.

At 1/22/2011 3:34 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1/22/2011 4:03 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


Wasted time
is undefined
for time is time to each,
and spending time
creating rhyme
is time wasted some would teach.
To others waste
is in the chase
for riches and success,
but short is life, and soon to end,
and the value of the time we spend
is anybody’s guess.

Copyright 2005 – Evolving – Poems 1965-2002, Gary B. Fitzgerald
(Written 1994)


Wasted time
is now defined
and I've got forty years
to prove it.
Time to each
is only time
and who among us
could disprove it?
And to think our time
has been well spent
in writing poetry
(for time is time to each),
choosing loneliness and misery
instead of riches and success
is a reach.

Copyright 2011 – Leftover Stew, Gary B. Fitzgerald
(Written 2006)



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