What Follows You

Jasper Fforde was born into a family of academics and had to overcome a belief that he couldn’t be a writer without any formal higher education. Seven books later he has concluded that the minimum requirement for writing is “being human.”

I couldn’t agree more. Writing schools (in the form of MFA programs) abound, and I imagine they serve a useful purpose. If nothing else, they get young and youngish would-be writers to write a lot under the tutelage of an experienced writer. Contacts can be made as well. Certain literary agents scour the ranks of Iowa Writers Workshop graduates for potential clients, and in her interview Zoë Ferarris described a soiree thrown by her MFA program where agents mingled with the new blood.

So all to the good. But in the end, all the writing classes in the world will never take the place of hours spent in the chair. Writing is not about a relationship between you and a writer teacher, or you and a critique group, or even you and your readership—it is a relationship between you and you. After you’ve written what you wanted to write is when the teachers and readers come in, and that is a particular relationship and experience unto itself.

The writing, however, is about you talking to you. Or, more accurately, you listening to you. Those hours in the chair are where you train your ear to hone in on your most authentic stream of thought and feeling. That stream is unique to you, and so it is ultimately impossible for anyone else to tell you where it is or what it sounds like.

Alone we are at our desks. Some of us fear this solitude, some of us are afraid to leave it. Yet there is nothing to fear, in leaving the solitude or in turning toward it. That silence and solitude is with you at all times, and if you train your ear well enough, you will hear it wherever you are—ending arguments, choosing the perfect gift, and putting you to sleep at night.

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