Tracy Mack, a young author and former book editor, offered some salient words of advice for young writers during an interview for this project. Her recent works include Drawing Lessons, a Booklist Top Ten First Novel of 2000, and Birdland.
Listen to the audio.
"One piece of advice I give young writers about writing is that it's really important to let yourself write bad stuff. You have to write bad stuff before you get to the good stuff. And not to self edit. Or censor. Just to let yourself go. Because all good writing is re-writing.
"And that you need to give yourself time for a story to surface. It takes me, I'm not enormously prolific. I don't publish a book a year or several books a year and it's not just because I have a day job. It's because it takes me a while to bring a story up. And I think that it's important to honor that. And also to try to finish things. To follow them through. To see what this story is meant to be. Maybe it won't be something to try to publish or show anybody else. But to try to complete things. And another friend of mine said, 'You should never go back to old work. You know, once you've finished it, you should -' . I don't know if I totally agree with that because sometimes I think there's a character lingering that was around for some reason that might surface in another story."
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"It's interestingMy first book was about a young artist who was struggling through her parents' separation and she'd been taught for years by her artist father. And when I finished, everybody wanted to know if it was my story. And had my parents separated? And had I lived through this? Was my father an artist?
"And it really had nothing to do with my life growing up. And in many ways, Birdland is much closer to my own personal experience, even though it's about a boy. And it's about a boy who's lost his older brother. And in many ways, I felt that I had lost my oldest brother growing up because when I was about nine, he started using drugs. And it took him away from the family emotionally for many years. And I wanted to write about that. But, and so, I tried to write it from a girl's point of view, you know, dealing with this very reckless, unpredictable older brother, and I just couldn't find the voice. I worked on it for probably two years and it never felt right. And I realized after a while that I couldn't separate the main characters' experiences from my own. I couldn't release the book to the realm of fiction.
"And it's really important to do that. That's another piece of advice I give to young writers is write what you know but change the details so that you can relinquish it to your imagination and it's not just autobiographical. I think it's much more difficult to write honestly about your own story.