Congratulations to Andrew Scott, assistant professor of English, on the publication of his first book, Naked Summer (Press 53, 2011.). In order to mark the occassion, we asked another English department faculty member, Jared Sexton, to interview Andrew about his first full-length book and his life as a writer, editor and teacher. Below is the second installment of the interview. You can find the first installment here.
4. Without a doubt, you’re one of the most passionate teachers I know. There’s been a long debate now about whether or not you can teach a student to write well. Which side of the fence do you fall on with that particular issue?
Students can learn to become better readers, certainly, and becoming a better reader is the first step toward becoming a better writer. Teachers can model useful behaviors that beginning writers might need to eventually adopt — how to find a writing routine that fits the individual, how to become serious about revision, how to handle rejection, and so on — if they’re going to become lifelong “professional” writers, whatever we might mean when we say that. Beginning writers must work to find a balance between humility and the fire within. Without one or the other, it’s hard to steadily improve.
Those who oppose the teaching of creative writing are usually caught up in delusions of debauchery and other romanticized notions of the writing life — that a writer must travel the world, say, or kill a bear with her bare hands in order to know how to write about life. While a creative writing class can’t teach someone to be a genius, and while the work still rests solely on the writer’s shoulders, I do think the right teacher, the right group of peers, can help a young writer push off in the right direction. Creative writing classrooms played a crucial role in my development as a writer. Every now and then, I encounter some resistance to what some view as the safety of the creative writing classroom, but as Eudora Welty said, “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well, for all serious daring starts from within.”
5. What do you think you’ve learned from writing your collection? I know whenever I walked away from mine there was a definite set of experiences that I had, both personal and artistically, that changed the way I went about my business going forward. Is there anything like that for you? Anything you’d like to do again, wouldn’t like to?
Much of what I know about writing fiction I’ve learned from writing the stories in Naked Summer. That said, I don’t know if I’ll write another short story collection that isn’t capable of being dressed up as a novel or something larger. Linked stories, a story cycle — whatever you call it, when I write short stories in the future, they’ll be part of a larger, cohesive project. The frustrating thing about this book finally being published is that I’m still not convinced that it is measurably better now than it was three years ago, or even six years ago.
Do you know that essay by Ted Solotaroff? It’s called “Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years,” and he suggests that persistence matters more than talent, which rings true to most writers and is a reason why that essay is always passed around between us. I wouldn’t like to endure another ten years in the cold, I will say that. But I also learned that I can only write what I want to write. I can’t please everyone. I can’t worry about outside forces pressing down on me, expectations from the chorus of readers, past and present, former teachers, friends, colleagues, whatever. I’m trying to become the kind of writer who is satisfied with merely doing the work each day, or every few days, like a painter in the studio, dabbing a bit of paint here and there, then covering it up with something else over time.
6. Here’s something I’ve wondered about for awhile – could you take us through the evolution of Andrew Scott, Writer? I think if some young writers read this they might have a decent idea of the kind of trajectory to expect when growing and changing as an artist.
I used to be a single-celled organism. Then I became a fish, like the mother in As I Lay Dying. Eventually I crawled up on the beach. I’ve been gasping for breath ever since.
I’m about to turn 35. I’ve been trying to write fiction for about half of my life. But one of the best parts about being a writer is that you can still be an “emerging” or “young” writer into what we normally call middle age. I’m still ahead of the game, in a lot of ways. There are many writers my age or older who’ve also been working hard for many years and still don’t have a full-length book. It really is a discipline, and you have to be obsessed in order to complete a project. The only advice that I can offer about what trajectory to expect when growing and changing as an artist is that it will likely take a long time, and artists never really know in which direction they might one day be pulled.