I was in a graduate fiction workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University and one of my pieces was up, and it hadn’t gone well. I was rope-a-doping my way through the post-mortem, resisting all suggestions to improve upon the clever perfection of my workshop gem, when some member of the workshopâ€”I’m not sure whoâ€”said, “Get closer.”
And damn, if the bastard wasn’t right, and I could scarcely look at a single scene or sentence in the story without wanting to revise it, to strip away the cleverness and get closer to the sense, to the characters, to the heart of the matter, to whatever it was had me writing the story in the first place. Over and over again ever since, revising some new clever bit of boredom I’ve contrived, it’s the advice that keeps on giving: Get closer. Try it. Might work for you.
Write every day. Make it a habit.
I think that was the overall lesson from the MFA program for me, and it served me well in my PhD program. Of course, it’s easier advice to say and/or give than to follow, but that’s a whole different issue…