Writers on Writing: Junot Diaz

I keep this image in the rotation for my laptop background to remind me that I just have to keep writing.

Image retrieved from Pinterest

For this “Writers on Writing”, I want to discuss Dominican American writer and MacArthur Fellow Junot Diaz. Diaz is best known for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the novel for which he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I know him for his humorous story “How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” and his strong political voice on Facebook. Based on what I’ve read, I think he’s a talented, hilarious, and very opinionated man. I’ve also found his writing advice and discussions on his writing, editing, and teaching experiences to be incredibly valuable, especially for struggling writers.

The advice I’m going to focus on is more about uplifting fellow writers than approaches to writing and its difficulties:

You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.

–Junot Diaz, Becoming a Writer/ The List, O Magazine, November 2009, retrieved from Goodreads

This quote, as an image I found somewhere on Google, serves as part of the rotating background on my laptop. I keep it to remind myself that it’s OK that not everything I do is perfect. I’ve especially needed these words recently. It may sound obvious–no one’s perfect, after all–but artists overall don’t typically remember that the world won’t end if they make a mistake. Writers are no exception.

It’s no secret that writers are perfectionists. One of the most common reasons for writer’s block is a paralyzing fear of not creating anything worthwhile. I know that my writer’s block, no matter what the superficial reasons seem to be, always boils down to being afraid that my work is going to be utter crud. It’s the barrier that separates aspiring writers from actual writers.

It doesn’t matter a lick that you’re the most talented writer in the world if you don’t let yourself write something horrible. Conversely, you could think that that 90% of your work is the worst thing ever produced. However, if you keep writing through this 90%, you will reach the 10% that’s gold. You will hit roadblocks, you will feel discouraged, but you will find your masterpiece because you don’t stop. That’s when you stop aspiring to be a writer and start being one.

Junot Diaz, image retrieved from his Wikipedia entry

In addition to sifting through the muck, we have to keep writing when we have no hope because we’re the worst judges of our own work. We may think something is horrific but our readers eat it up, or we think something is genius but it falls flat once it’s out of our hands. There are plenty of examples from famous writers, including Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville. Our views are biased either for or against our work, so we’ll never know what’s actually worth the effort until after the effort has been made.

Yes, it can do you and your work a load of good to step away for a while. Sometimes our batteries need to recharge. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that we should give up entirely when things get tough. In my opinion, writing is about 10% talent, 10% luck, and 80% effort. The more we create, the more likely we are to succeed. That’s why, even when nothing we do shows any promise, we can’t give up. All we can do is continue to write. Remember, this career–this lifestyle–isn’t about publication and success; it’s about doing what we all love, writing.

Any thoughts on Diaz’s words? Have quotes and/or writing advice from famous writers that you think I should discuss? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or contact me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com.

Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

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