Experience v. Insight

Found via Janet Reid: Sarah Manguso’s article, How to Have a Career: Advice to Young Writers. Every paragraph is full of spot on advice, but I specifically liked this:

You may believe your messy life supplies material, but it in fact distracts you from understanding that material, and until you understand it, it is useless to you.

That goes for all experience, I think, but especially for psychological turbulence. Pat Conroy turned his experience at The Citadel into two novels. Obviously, he had a deep understanding of that experience. But go to  any writer’s conference, anywhere, and you’ll find someone holding forth about his (or her, natch) work-in-progress based on a messy divorce from an abusive, alcoholic spouse. “I can’t get it published because no one really understands it.” Listen for a while, though, and it’s clear who doesn’t understand: the writer, who thinks that just because the experience was full of conflict and struggle, their writing is automatically gifted with insight.