I think that out of seven years of teaching at the University of Pennsylvania I found maybe two students who had their own voice, in my judgment. There were lots who were competent but only two who were startling.
I think aspiring writers need as much discouragement as we can muster. Nobody should undertake the life of a fiction writer--so unrenumerative, so maddeningly beset by career vagaries--who has any other choice in the matter. Learn a trade! Flannery O'Conner said it best: "People are always asking me if the university stifles writers. I reply that it hasn't stifled enough of them."
Some well-known writers are disdainful of anyone being able to teach creative writing in a meaningful way. They fear that what is being taught is mechanical "factory fiction" rather than worthwhile art that reflects the human condition in an entertaining way. In my view, this is a disingenuous attitude, because books or classes in creative writing can only point the way. There is no magic formula, and the ambitious but uninspired writer who searches for it will never succeed. Studying writing through analysis, or, more accurately diagnosis, is not a justification for encouraging or perpetuating mediocrity.
Men writers who are married to non-working wives--that is, wives who stay at home--have a certain advantage. Every writer needs a wife!--someone to stand guard, to cook meals, to deal with the immediate problems of house and children, and keep them out of their husbands' hair. It's more difficult for women writers, who have to do all these chores plus their writing.
Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men is one of my favorite books. I read a lot of southern writers--Faulkner, Eudora Welty--and a lot of Dickens. It seems I stole something from everybody I ever read. I hope in a good way.
Writing should be a snap. We've been telling stories all our lives; we know all of these words; we've got a pen and some paper and a million ideas. We fiddle. We put on some music. We scribble. We stare out the window. We remember we have that wedding to go to next August. Better buy a gift soon. We smooth out the paper. We consider how none of our errands are getting done while we sit. We get up. And now we know what writers already know: that writing is difficult, and it is a disorderly and unnerving enterprise, and because it is, we all have, it seems, developed an unnatural resistance to the blank page.
Anne Sexton (who killed herself) saw Sylvia Plath's suicide as a career move, one that had been taken from her because Plath beat her to it. Sexton say suicide as a kind of death that had a lot of resonance for a literary career and also helped with the marketing of the work. Her prediction about Sylvia Plath came true: Plath was relatively unknown when she killed herself, but shortly after that she becaqme the best-known woman writer in American and probably England as well.
Publishers love celebrity authors because they don't have to spend money to make them famous. Celebrity worshippers will come to the book signing events for photo-ops and autographs. The book on sale is nothing more than a souvenir. Celebrity "journalists" invite these semi-literates to appear on TV talk shows to talk about and promote their vacuous, ghost-written memoirs.
Since a novel is a recreation of reality, its theme has to be dramatized, i.e., presented in terms of action. A story in which nothing happens is not a story. A store whose events are haphazard and accidental is either an inept conglomeration or, at best, a chronicle, a memoir, a reportorial recording, not a novel. It is realism that demands a plot structure in a novel.