Professor Patrick Evans has officially retired from his role at UC. During his career, he specialised in New Zealand Literature and also Creative Composition – following is his advice for aspiring writers.
– If you want to be a writer, commit to it or give up now. It’s hard work and particularly so in New Zealand where there’s so little money in the publishing industry. There are so few readers and the reviewing and literary-critical system is so primitive.
– Few successful writers I know have managed to write full-time; the crucial question is how you will support yourself as a creative writer by doing something that doesn’t draw from the same well writing draws from (hint: avoid school teaching: all that spare time you think you’re going to use for writing will be taken up in marking and therapy).
– Marry someone rich and naïve, someone who ‘believes in you’; around them set up a supportive network of friends who will read your work and criticise it intelligently, honestly and kindly.
– Don’t have kids, as they will suck up all your time and money. Or do, and be prepared to write less and on cheaper paper.
– Remember that writing can be a selfish and lonely existence; be aware of what you’re doing to those around you. Write about them, not you, and learn what it is as well, and how to write about it.
– Remember that novels in particular are hard things to write, particularly if they’re going to be any good. You might think you’ve written a novel, but you’ve probably just written 80,000 words of stuff. Be patient. Life is long. You might not be a writer now, but you might be a writer then.
– Learn to write out of love, not hate – out of the gratitude you feel for being allowed to live in the wonder of the world (see R.K. Narayan for this). You think the world is two gin-and-tonics below par (see Humphrey Bogart)? Then why do people want to live in it as long as they can? Learn to recognise that wonder around you (this will take you the rest of your life). Learn to read the Book of Life (Allen Curnow’s idea). You will know what that means when you find you are starting to do it.
– Avoid meetings.