Novelist Richard Russo recently spoke at Vermont College of Fine Arts. In his hour-long conversation with VCFA President and novelist Thomas Greene, he spoke about the value of formal education for writers.
In describing his MFA experience, Russo said, “What it was for me was a port in the storm, for one thing. Two or three years in which you’re in a place with other people, you’re all doing the same thing, and you don’t have to explain yourself to anybody.”
Russo has also taught writing, and shared his thoughts on teaching the craft. “I think part of what a writing teacher’s job is to help a talented writer find out how to get that last short distance,” he said.
To explain what that “short distance” is, he offered this analogy: “You know how in a computer when you’re waiting for something to download and you follow the bar along and it goes up to 98% and sometimes it stalls at 98% and you think ‘What the hell? It took you thirty seconds to go 98% and now you’re sitting there waiting for that last two percent.’
It’s like that with writers […] It’s amazing how quickly you can learn all but the thing that you need to learn most. And that’s that last two percent.”
Russo said that “one of the things that a good writing teacher will do, in addition to the technical things, is to help the writer understand who he or she is and what’s coming between that writer and that last two percent.”
This is helpful advice, especially since, in the Burlington Writers Workshop, we’re all each other’s teachers.
What’s your “two percent”? And how are you working to travel that last short distance?