Learning Chinese

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I happened upon this essay on The Paris Review Tumblr page — happened upon it courtesy of Facebook power-user and UT classmate D.A. Hosek (subscribe to his Facebook feed if you, dear reader, can). Anyway, so here I was, all happened upon this essay by Roberto Balaño — “Advice on the Art of Writing Short Stories” — and two things occurred to me:

    A) To write, you must read. But it is impossible to read everything.

The majority of Balaño’s advice concerns reading suggestions. I have read much of some of the suggested authors; I have read a little of some of the others; I have read none of a few as well.

We want to read great writers. It is just as much a component of learning writing as the writing itself. Just as when learning a foreign language, we must listen to a native speak Chinese just as much as we must practice 你好 ourselves; there must be input and output.

    B) But we must stop reading and start writing at some indeterminate point. Or maybe a point determined by inspiration.

Which is why Mr. Balaño’s point the second resounded so well with myself and several other MFA students:

Short Story Method

(Pardon me as I snip the image rather than transcribe.)

Balaño’s advice to write more than one story at a time is a freeing concept. Write as inspiration leads you, at least when it comes to short-form writing (there’s little choice when it comes to a novel or epic; revision is the space for inspiration in that medium).

And rather than wait for inspiration to hammer away at the same story, let new inspiration create new rivulets of writing. It is potent advice from Balaño, and we are wise when we follow it.

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