When a writer works daily on the craft, the luck that comes with becoming successful is only a matter of time.
Award-winning author Mona Simpson shared that message with students during a talk on campus April 20.
“Luck will develop by being in the writing world long enough,” Simpson said. “Your luck is somebody else’s opportunity. Agents, small publishers and big publishers are looking for you as much as you are looking for them.”
Simpson, also a professor of English at UCLA and writer-in-residence at Bard College, spoke during two sessions in the University Library’s Special Events Room, one for mostly English students and the other for a general audience.
At the Department of English and Foreign Languages-sponsored event, the author recalled that of all of the aspiring writers she met while in school or when they were young artists struggling to get published, those who were serious about the craft became writers of one sort or another.
“They took a riskier route,” Simpson said. “They didn’t settle for what they didn’t want. I am really a believer in the literary artistic life.”
Susannah Rodríguez Drissi, a writer and visiting professor of hemispheric American studies in the English department, taught at the same time as Simpson at UCLA, although in a different department. She also worked as the author’s literary assistant. She invited Simpson so that students could meet and connect with a working writer up close and personal.
“It was to inspire them first and foremost,” Rodríguez Drissi said. “Sometimes you want a particular career, but it can seem so far away and impractical.”
Simpson, who grew up in Los Angeles, studied poetry at UC Berkeley. She also was pre-med, but opted to pursue writing at the encouragement of a psychiatrist she found in the yellow pages while home for Thanksgiving.
She pursued journalism after graduation. She also worked as a publicist and an acupuncturist. She earned a master of fine arts degree from Columbia University, getting short stories published in Ploughshares, The Iowa Review and Mademoiselle. After finishing her graduate degree, Simpson worked as an editor at The Paris Review for five years while finishing her first novel, “Anywhere But Here.” That novel was later adapted for the big screen in a movie starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman.
She went on to write five more novels, including the recently released “Casebook.”
Simpson said she still gets a familiar feeling when working on a book, even though she has written several.
“It’s just as terrifying and just as exciting as writing my first book,” she said.
Simpson encouraged the students to develop a habit of writing every day and to find colleagues with the same level of writing experience to share their work with in order to get feedback. She also fielded a question about why certain books become bestsellers.
While many people have read Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” few have read her novel “Villette,” which also is a very good book, Simpson said.
“I think you want to develop your own taste,” she said. “You don’t want to buy into the racket of letting the market determine your worth.”
Krista Martino, a fourth-year English literature student, wants to write fantasy fiction for young adults.
“It’s something that I just love,” she said of writing. “I have a strong imagination and I’m always thinking about things I want to write.”
Martino said many of the suggestions Simpson had for the students wanting to be professional writers were efforts she was making already in her own life, including writing regularly and sharing her work with a peer group.
“In the end, it comes down to your determination and connections,” she said. “You can’t expect opportunities to just show up. You have find them by making those connections.”