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Unlike Mary Karr, who can recite stanza upon stanza, I have a less than perfect memory and a short attention span so, while it is still fresh, I wanted to distill the Writer’s Studio weekend into a soundbite (nugget?) I could chew on. I will leave it to others to recap her hilarious and sassy turns of phrase and most of her craft advice. While I drank it all in, I was especially interested in what a best-selling memoirist and accomplished poet had to say about the practice of writing itself.
Here are two words of the three words she repeated throughout the weekend, and this pair is not even hers but Samuel Beckett’s:
Not feel better, fail better. Meaning, keep writing, trying, failing, failing better. On Sunday, during the craft talk (Truth and Lies of a Memoir), someone asked our guest about inspiration. Her response? There has not been one day when she has felt inspired to write. “I’m diligent, a sherpa,” she said, explaining that when writing Lit, she barricaded herself on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, refusing to go online, speak on the phone, attend events or answer the door while writing (or trying to write). Period.
And there is the third word, which she used almost as frequently as Simple Sugar Bakery donates goodies to Lighthouse events: A**hole. She, unlike most of us, can get away with multiple repetitions. Now, mostly, she mentioned it to refer to herself, meaning, if you are writing a memoir you need to be willing to be the a**hole on the page, rather than blaming the other characters, and then show readers the process by which you redeemed yourself. This valuable advice, although I’ve heard it many times before, is much harder to swallow than one of Simple Sugar’s miniature muffins or cupcakes (which I confess, I tend to munch in multiples. It’s too damn difficult to eat just one).
Now, please note, not once did she string those three words together and say, “Fail better, a**hole,” or, if you prefer, “A**hole, fail better.” But, reciting this trinity might make it easier to recall the gist of her advice the next time I either neglect my writing for the ephemeral pleasures of Facebook or am afraid of being honest with myself on the page. And for those of you whose ears close up at four letter words such as “fail”, or dislike terms ending in “hole” (such as posthole, uttered more than once by Mary and Michael Henry as he interviewed her Saturday) perhaps consider this somewhat gentler threesome that characterizes the writing process (and is the title of my writing “bible”): One Continuous Mistake. The weekend with Mary Karr was, of course, one continuous celebration. Thanks, Lighthouse, for making it possible.