Andre Dubus III Talks Writing

On Thursday, September 15th, Andre Dubus III came to campus as a part of the Writers’ Series. Some people were lucky enough to hear him read…others had class until 8:30. However, I was able to attend a “craft talk” with him earlier that afternoon. He met with students to discuss technique, curiosity, and what it’s like to be a “professional daydreamer.”

There’s no formula to learn how to write, Dubus said. A good course on writing “guides you to your own best tools and own best instincts to tell what’s shit and what’s not.” Curiosity is more important than anything else, talent included.

To write well you have to look deeply into yourself, Dubus said. And that’s hard. He told an anecdote to explain: before Dubus was known as a writer, a friend of his got the chance to talk with an established author. “Don’t read my last book,” the author said, “I made up the ending.” When Dubus heard that, he was skeptical. The guy was a fiction writer; it was all made up anyway.

The difference, Dubus realized, was that the author had stopped writing what felt true. He wasn’t imagining it anymore, just getting to an ending so he could pass it in to his publisher, the way you might have handed in homework in grade school. Everyone has their own built in shit detector, and this guy’s was going off like a fire alarm.

For this reason, Dubus emphasized using concrete description to make your writing feel real. If you don’t feel like you’re in there with the characters, the reader won’t either. And while abstract thought is important, you have to earn it by setting the context first.

Dubus ended by emphasizing that college isn’t about learning how to get a good job or earn money. “What I wish on you more than success is growth,” he said. The best way to get the most out of your college tuition is to find what makes you, you.

That, he said, is what will make you happy. Maybe daydreaming is more important than we thought.

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