When Good Advice Comes Back, It’s Even Better

Part of what we’re doing in The Artist’s Way is figuring out which people in the world are our allies in arts. I’ve been working hard to weed out my “poisonous playmates”, while remembering to value the people who nurture me and my work.
Here’s a story:
When I was just finished with Leaving Atlanta, and getting going on The Untelling, I went to my mentor Ron Carlson for advice. I had about fifty tender little pages. Should I send them to my agent? Ron said, “Depends.” I said, “Depends on what?” He said, “Do you like the pages? Do you feel like you’re on fire? Are you in the zone?” I said, “Yes, yes, yes!” And Ron said, “Then don’t show it to your agent yet. She’s going to say that she likes it, but..” Then he looked up at the ceiling and started talking again. “She’s going to say that she likes it, but she was thinking you should write something with– I don’t know– civil war reenactors. And then you’re going to be looking at your fifty pages trying to figure out where you’re going to put those union soldiers.”
Of course, my agent has never pushed for me to include the war between the states in my books, but I got the point: Don’t invite outside meddling until you absolutely have to.
Apparently, I passed this advice on to my friend, Bryn.
Just yesterday, she passed it back to me in a much shortened form: “NO! Don’t forget the Union Soldiers!”
It was just the boomerang I needed.
What’s the best advice you ever got from a mentor? Did you pass it on? Has it come back yet?

About TayariJones

Author of SILVER SPARROW, LEAVING ATLANTA, and THE UNTELLING.
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4 Responses to When Good Advice Comes Back, It’s Even Better

  1. carleen says:

    I’d say some of the best advice I got was from my writer-friend Marisol who read my very re-written ms and told me to STOP mucking with it. It was time to send it out and let it take its lumps already. All the things I thought I still needed to do (from all the books I was reading about writing) she said weren’t needed. “We get it,” she said, meaning my story was clear. Then she gave me this quote from Picasso: “I don’t finish my paintings. I abandon them.” Not saying I’m Picasso, but I got her point. I have passed on this advice, but it hasn’t come back to me yet. I know it will though.

  2. bryn c says:

    Union soldiers — so great. Two other noteworthys from Carlson that I’ve carried and passed on: “The writer is the person who stays in the room” and “Did it happen? No. Is it true? Yes.”
    Here’s another boomerang coming at you live, Tayari: I also always think about something you said about writing young characters (passed down, I think, from Margaret Atwood): “Little children do not find one another to be cute.”
    Also among the gems is Maxine Clair’s 10 Rules for Writing. At No. 9: “Revise, revise, revise. First draft is construction, seventh is work of an artist.” This has kept me sane during innumerable drafts.
    I guess I’ve gotten the boomerang effect during teaching; it’s a terrific feeling, to hear something repeated back, to know something has sunk in and will stick. Those scattered seeds have been great sustenance to me over the years, so it’s great to keep spreading them around.

  3. Michael Fischer says:

    The best advice I got was similar to Carleen’s–my mentor told me, “eventually, you can only ‘revise’ an MS so much. You don’t want to spend half your life revising one MS. At some point, you either send it out or put it in the drawer.” He was talking about a collection that I had been working on as an MA and an MFA student. Four years and I was still revising the same damn stories, over and over and over again.
    So I placed my entire MFA thesis in the drawer; it was good practice, that bad book that I just had to get out of my system. Now I’m working on something new.

  4. cheryl miner says:

    One of the best comments of advice I have received was from John Killens when I was 15 years old and very unsure of myself. He said a writer must be willing to show his/her rear end. In other words don’t let your work be censored by what others might think of it. Put you mother out of the room and write. This was freeing for me since I had a very critical mother. This blog entry is timely for me today because I just received by priority mail no less comments on my novel from a “friend” who did not critique my work but instead call my protagonist a selfish b*tch. No notes of explanation, no literary feedback but a tirade of personal comments on a fictional character. Actually this guy is not a friend but a member in a workshop I belong to eventhough the usefulness of this workshop escapes me at intervals. I have been considering getting out of workshops for a while and just writing. But I guess this guy is more in line with my monster list because every time I read he is on attack mode. He knows more than every body else, he has better rejection letters than the rest of us and he is of course closer to being published than the rest of us. Sorry guys….wrong subject…guess I’m just venting here. I’ll stick to the subject…thanx for the good advice.