Hey kids! Thanks for checking in, genius writer. I worry. I worry because you never call nor write. Texting counts as writing these days. But you never text me. You send your grandmother your TikTok posts. Me? I get nothing. So, why should I, the author of four books, a fifth and sixth forthcoming, share with you any tips on writing and/or the writing life?
I can answer my own question. Because I love you, and for those of you I haven’t met yet, I pre-love you. I am the Thomas Merton of Creative Writing.
My forthcoming novel is suspenseful, thoughtful, and sometimes emotionally troubling. Be forewarned. But this Brian showing up today, human Brian, is upbeat and here for you.
This is what I got for you right now. On tomorrow’s show, it’s a cobra-juggling unicyclist, but today is “Writer’s Day.” So here are some takeaways from about 25 years as an active, publishing writer. Some of it may work for you.
I can report with all sincerity, I wish I’d had this list way back then. I have found my kind genius writer, and by the end of this post, you will have too.
1. People who tell you that you must write every day forget to admit that they don’t write every day. They are not kind genius writers.
They don’t tell you that’s a rule for you but not for them. If you write three days a week for just a couple hours at a time, or 6 days a week an hour at a time, or 7 days a week 15 minutes at a time, it’s all the same. If you can write one day a week because that’s all you can pull out of your busy life schedule, well, gods-bless you!
My writing schedule has changed dramatically over these many years. For example, there was indeed a time I wrote every day. Then I fell in love and moved in with a great guy. I wrote less frequently, but not any less well. The guy, by the way, is in the acknowledgments of all my books.
Do make a weekly plan, but don’t fret, no matter how many days you commit to. Just commit your writer to the days and times you – you kind genius writer – CAN write.
2. Your kind genius writer’s sweetie can wait.
What I mean is, yeah, he was a great guy, but I didn’t let him read any of my work before it was published. Why? Well—and yes, there are rare exceptions—your sweetie is wonderful, I agree. So are many of your relatives and friends. Naturally, you want their thoughts on your work. They know you best, after all.
And that’s the problem. You need the freedom to not be you in your writing.
And you need the freedom from your sweetie and these others searching for and making assumptions about where they are in the work.
Also, because they love you, much of the critique your writing really needs will go left unsaid.
I know two poets married to each other. They share their writing. I don’t know how they do it, but they manage quite well. So, maybe that’s the addendum. Follow my advice unless you can marry a kind genius writer poet.
In any case, replace extra love for the unpublished writing you won’t let your sweetie read. They’ll appreciate the tradeoff. And so will you.
3. I was a super cute little kid kind genius writer.
That has nothing to do with this list. I just wanted you to know in case you see me now on the street.
But, speaking of childhood, Mrs. Rodgers read Stuart Little to my first-grade class. It was a wonder. A mouse born just like a little man. My entry point into queer literature, for sure, but back then, I was just thrilled to Stuart on his boat, worried for him wrapped in the blinds, admired his tenacity and boldness to venture out into the world to find his future.
What book from your childhood (up to 14?) excited you the way Stuart Little did me? Or, what book when you first had access to books thrilled you? When was the last time you read it?
Stuart and I have a little lunch together every two or three years. Why? Because I like to be reminded of that feeling I had when we first met. I want to remember delight.
I want to remember delight because it reminds me of my own responsibilities as a writer, and it reminds me that reading shouldn’t feel like a chore nor medicine. Some of the best-intended literature courses and book clubs can wring the life out of the very texts they mean to honor with attention. Remembering delight reminds me, even in my most serious, somber writing, my ambition is to be in service of a reader’s delight.
So, from time to time, revisit that book which delighted you in childhood. Re-read what raised your little genius writer.
And if you’re thinking I’m being too precious, alternatively I might have mentioned that in fifth grade I came across a used copy of Helter Skelter and read it in one day. It’s a terrifying account of the Manson murders. I could have mentioned that book instead of Stuart Little, but I wanted to first delight you with my cuteness.
4 Be honest: Your inner kind genius writer likely has a couple of places in mind.
Where are you going to publish? In what print or online journal? With what press? What non-profit literary organization do you hope will play a role in supporting your writing and writing life?
Now, how do you know these places will be there when you need them? We’re all hoping against hope that enough people are subscribing and donating to keep our favorite journals, presses, and literary organizations afloat so that we have a place to land. Everyone in print this month was made room for by the folks who in the previous year or years supported the publishing venue. Those very good people.
Are you a very good people? Right now, how many print and online journals are you supporting? How many literary organizations? Are you making it possible for other writers to achieve their dreams? It is, after all, a reciprocal ecosystem.
Put simply, how are you in service to other writers? You can’t expect more than you give. I’ve met so many good-hearted writers who want to be assisted and supported in their ambitions, but who make almost no investment in other writers. If you want space on the bookshelf, help make room for others on that same shelf.
It’s not all dollar signs. There are non-costly ways to be in service of other writers. Being an eager and thoughtful reader of an unpublished manuscript, for example, or volunteering with a literary non-profit.
Think of it this way: the most fabulous and selfish thing you can do in service of your own writing is to support other writers. Every good rainbow needs more than one genius writer.
5) You know you’re Mad, right?
There is just a blip under 8 billion people on this planet. Most of them aren’t writers. My, my, what an odd duck you are. Is it crossed wires, wild synapses, firing up all these images in your brain that you must bring to life through text? There are so many surgical instruments and pulsing electrics on the table that there’s hardly room for the body.
This you know. You have the power to create life. You are a god on Earth. You have the power to make a positive difference in other people’s lives through your writing, not to mention your own.
After reading the previous four items in this list, what the hell are you going to do with all that power? Will you find your kind genius writer?
Brian Leung is the author of the novels Ivy vs. Dogg: With a Cast of Thousands, Lost Men, and Take Me Home. Among other honors, he is a past recipient of the Lambda Literary Outstanding Mid-Career Prize and the Willa Award. Brian’s fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry appear in numerous magazines and journals. He is a Professor of Creative Writing at Purdue University. His forthcoming novel, All I Should Not Tell (C&R Press), will be released in the spring of 2022.
Click here to pre-order a copy of All I Should Not Tell.