As the semester closes, the best students come out of the woodwork, seeking advice and earnestly wanting to talk about how to write, how to make their writing better, and how to actually make a buck or two at this business.
I wish they would come to my door when I didn't have exams to grade and my own writing crises to deal with.
But in giving them advice, I find that it helps me refocus on what I'm doing. My advice to them becomes advice to myself. And sometimes I'm even correct in what I tell them.
This past week, I had a young man come in who wants to be the next Hunter S. Thompson, sans the drugs and alcohol. I pointed out that the myth of the drugs and alcohol is what makes Hunter S. Thompson so appealing. A lot of his writing is mindless drivel. Some of it brilliant. But I'll pick up anything he writes because it might be brilliant and the wild man personna is irrestible.
Writing is risky business, even for the pros because every time you stick your head up out of the trench and send a piece off for an editor to review you risk failure, embarrassment and a blow to the ego. But, as I told my student this past week, the beauty of writing is that you get to go to bat again, every day. You have to keep swinging.
Here's a quote from Andrew Sullivan, now a blogger, formerly editor of The New Republic:
"The dirty little secret of journalism is that it isn't really a profession. It's a craft. All you need is a telephone and conscience, and you're all set. You get better at it by merely doing it — which is why fancy journalism schools are, to my mind, such a waste of time." (From TIME magazine, Sept. 27, 2004)
Fire up the keyboards, time to get better.