The Tyro

tyro, noun, a beginner in learning anything; novice.

The Fourth Edition of The Elements of Style includes a section titled, An Approach to Style, supplied by E. B. White – every writer’s colleague and friend – who brought us Professor Strunk’s pithy little book in the first place. Item 14 in this section admonishes, “Avoid fancy words.”

“Tyro” is a fancy word to me because I didn’t know it until a few minutes ago, but it’s the right word because it doesn’t hint at working for another in order to learn a trade or skill. To whom does the novelist apprentice? Jack London wrote on writers and writing, “I’ve had no mentor but myself.” But don’t confuse having no mentor with having many mentors, which any serious writer should have because there are many to be had. The Paris Review’s Art of Fiction series is a good place to start.

Part of my apprenticeship to writing is reading as much good fiction as I can make time for. I’m reading successful authors’s observations about the craft, then reading samples of their work. Another part of it is seeking professional advice that helps me avoid rookie mistakes that depreciate the work. This author is trying to take a long view. Stay in for the long haul. Make a career of it.

These observations might have been titled, The Patient Writer or Revision: Early, Often and Endless. But my theme is broader than these titles imply. Fresh composition pouring out “in flow” is really fun. It’s a dynamic that happened a lot more during the composition of the first novel than with Stork Bite. The Stork Bite characters and stories seem to demand a more deliberate effort in the new composition phase. Furthermore, the book requires multiple revisions in which the words must be validated (researched), rearranged, embellished, trimmed, cleaned up and polished. Hours piled upon hours.

Today I told a friend that I wished Stork Bite was finished so I could get on with looking for an agent. What I really meant was I’m anxious to find out if Stork Bite will attract the interest of an agent and a publisher, or will I be going back to the drawing board to learn more so that the work becomes worthy. Nevertheless, whatever the outcome of Stork Bite, I will be going back to the drawing board. I’m ruminating another novel, and perhaps a short story. I’ve always loved short stories, especially ones made savory with a little irony, but I have even more to learn about writing short work than writing novels.

The likely outcome that the book will collect rejections is a hard thought mid-way through the writing. It isn’t hard to be published – nowadays it’s as easy as a Create Space account on Amazon – but it’s harder to be read. I was so sure that first book was good enough to take off, and then it didn’t. I would have worked differently during the creation process had I known. But I was a novice. What did I expect? This time I’m trying to keep my experience in mind. There is no rush. There is nothing to rush to except getting better at the whole affair.

In his Art of Fiction interview, novelist James Baldwin had this to say about writing (emphasis added):

“Write. Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say. If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.”

And this:

“I don’t try to be prophetic, as I don’t sit down to write literature. It is simply this: a writer has to take all the risks of putting down what he sees. No one can tell him about that. No one can control that reality. It reminds me of something Pablo Picasso was supposed to have said to Gertrude Stein while he was painting her portrait. Gertrude said, “I don’t look like that.” And Picasso replied, “You will.” And he was right.”

I’m still a novice. Years have passed in which I took a leave of absence from writing, years in which I busied myself with grown-up pursuits rather than pipe drams. Yet here I am again. Writing. I don’t get paid for it. No deadlines exist. No one cares if I don’t write. Except me. That’s how it is with tyros, at least until they are pros.

© M K Simonds


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