I attend the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference in Homer, Alaska, every summer to participate in great workshops with Alaskan writers and hear fabulous keynote speakers of national reputation.
This year, Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog and other books, gave the keynote. He spoke eloquently about many things, but the concept that struck me the most was:
We don’t know what we’re doing—and that’s a strength.
Sometimes, accomplished writers speak as if they have the truth straight from the Oracle of Delphi. We can trick ourselves into thinking, “If I do this or that or that other thing, I will be a brilliant writer, too.” But it doesn’t work like that. Andre offered no easy formulas or guidelines for writing. He admitted he doesn’t know what he’s doing, either.
To support this concept, Andre offered a couple ways to look at writing that I found useful:
You need curiosity and perseverance to write.
You must be willing to fail.
I was comforted by the last one. It gave me permission to muck around and try different things. Andre Dubus III’s speech came at the perfect time for me. By the end of the conference, I decided that I needed a different hero for my current WIP (work in progress). And as scary as it is to throw away 44.944 words and start over, I’m doing it. Because I don’t know what I’m doing, and that’s okay. I have to try it even if I fail. I have faith that I’ll have a better book in the end, even though I don’t know yet what shape it may take.
To aspiring writers: I can’t make it easy for you, any more than it’s easy for me. But I encourage you to give yourself permission to be curious, risk failure, and persevere. Who knows—one day, you might be the one giving that keynote speech.