Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rick Bragg's advice for young writers


"In Birmingham, Alabama, I had a senior editor named Clarke Stallworth who had one basic rule of good writing: Show me, don’t tell me. Let me see what you see. Paint me a picture. Then, I’ll follow you anywhere, even past the jump." -Rick Bragg


Excellent piece by Kelly Kazek in today's Huntsville (AL) Times on Pulitzer Prize-winning Alabama writer Rick Bragg, who is now a professor of writing at the University of Alabama.

Kazek writes that Bragg was asked Saturday by someone in the crowd at a festival in Athens, Alabama, how he came to write his first book, “All Over but the Shouting.”
When a member of the audience asked how Bragg came to write “All Over but the Shouting,” he said he wanted to write a love story about his mother and he couldn’t have done it when he was in his 20s and an unknown writer.

“I would have been writing in a vacuum,” he said. “I wanted the book about my mother to be a sledgehammer. I didn’t want it to be a tack hammer.”

Yet, he didn’t recognize the sign he was ready when it came.

He was living in Manhattan writing for The New York Times and had achieved some acclaim in his six months there. One day, he got a call from a well-known literary agent offering to represent him if he ever wrote a book. The next day, an editor from a well-known publishing house called and said the same.

He told them both, “no thank you, ma’ams.”

“I declined because I am an idiot,” he said.

When he relayed the story to a friend, “my friend reached across the table and punched me in the head. He said, ‘You call them both back tomorrow.’ So I did.”

Bragg said the advice he gives young writers is two-fold: First, write the book. “Don’t worry about the agent. Don’t worry about a publishing house. If you have an idea, if you have something you’re passionate about, write the book. Finish the manuscript. Make it as perfect as you can make it, then peddle it.”

Second, Bragg said writers need to understand how to show, not tell. “If you cannot paint a picture and hang it in the air in front of the reader, you’ve failed.”

In his case, he said, it was a learned craft. Bragg often says he comes from a family of storytellers.

“My uncles can make you hear the change rattle in the pockets of a deputy as he chases you down a dirt road,” Bragg said. “That’s just my legacy. And I’ll take it.”

Rick Bragg's Southern Journal

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