In an interview published today on The Days of Yore, Mary Karr has what seems to me to be good advice on making your way in the world. Naturally, her advice is laced with the advice of other writers:
Do you have any additional advice for writers?
They should all be in therapy. [Laughs.] The big battle is the moral battle with yourself and with your vanity and with how you want to be portrayed.
My battles as a writer are battles with that part of myself that thinks I’m supposed to sound like T.S. Eliot when I grew up in East Texas. I wanted to sound lofty and British and to say ‘indeed’. That’s not how I am. The best thing about me is that I’m warm. The book should be that way, too, right? That’s something I can do better. I can do warm better than Don DeLillo. That’s not what he does. He does another thing.
There’s another Hemingway line about bullfighting. He interviews a famous bullfighter, and he says, “What exercises do you do for strength?” The bullfighter says, “The bull weighs two tons. Am I going to be stronger than the bull?” You’ve got to figure out what you have to fight with, what you bring to the party, and try to compete in that arena. Not in the arena that perhaps seems fashionable at the time, or perhaps seems enviable in other people, but the arena that’s really, as Faulkner says, your postage stamp of reality.
I know for myself, and imagine it’s true for many others, that figuring out and honestly acknowledging what you have to fight with is a big, big challenge.