Shelter in Place
By Joe Haldeman
This is the third in a series of posts leading up to the 2013 AWP Conference at which Eric Olsen will moderate a panel on “What We Wish We’d Known.” Please join us in Boston Saturday, March 9, 2013, 1:30-2:45 pm, in room 206 of the Hynes Convention Center, when novelists Jane Smiley, her daughter Lucy Silag, Vu Tran, and Doug Unger will discuss what they didn’t learn as workshop students, but wish they had, what they learned later, often the hard way. The world that Jane, Doug, and Eric entered a generation ago is very different from the world that Lucy and Vu entered more recently, and thus what they wish they’d known may be different as well. Or not. The panel will explore all of this, and much more.
In response to Eric’s original post, Science Fiction Hall of Famer Joe Haldeman says: I’d sort of go in the direction of “two or perhaps three years one spends in a writers’ workshop are or should be a refuge from the ‘real world.’ The ‘real world’ and thinking too much about it are just a distraction from what’s important, which is of course one’s ‘art.’ Get the art right, and the real world will come knocking on your door.”
I think it’s immensely important for a young writer to have a couple of years when he or she doesn’t have to do anything but write. A cocoon like the Writers’ Workshop can help —and if it doesn’t help, if you just have a couple of years hanging around Iowa City [or any Workshop town] and finding out that you can’t spend the rest of your life writing, well, that’s not without value either.
It’s also a good education. When I came to Iowa, I was already making a living from writing, and knew that I was going to spend the rest of my life doing it. But I was relatively unlettered, and the Workshop teachers — all of them writers and most of them fanatic readers — opened up world after world of new literature to me. Perhaps that improved my writing. It certainly gave me a better life.
Between now and March (and well beyond, for that matter) we invite you to weigh in on what you wish you’d known before entering the literary world.