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The Writer's Handful

May 5, 2014

Tags: bad workshop advice, giraffes, the School of Prolific Writers, writing

Many thanks to acclaimed author, blogger, and educator, Patricia Ann McNair, for allowing me the opportunity to participate in her "Writer's Handful" discussion. Learn more at www.PatriciaAnnMcNair.com.

May 5, 2014

Questions:

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I did not write today, and it kills me to say so. I just released my new short story collection, and I am in the throes of a full-on, all-out publicity push. So, I set aside the day to promote my book, make some contacts, and set up some future publicity events. I certainly realize the importance of the publicity and promotion aspect of a writing career, but Iíd much rather be in my office, writing. Only when I am getting the words down onto the page do I really feel a sense of accomplishment. Itís a good thing that Iíll be back at it tomorrow. Iím in the process of revising my next novel, A Fine Line, which is a crime mystery thatís set in Chicago, and my year-end deadline is fast approaching.


What's the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

Itís hard for me to think back that far. However, I can remember the first ďrealĒ short story I wrote after I made the decision to purse writing as a career. I wrote the first draft of the story, No Turning Back, in August of 2006. In coming up with the idea for the story, I tried to think about what might be one of the most difficult acts a person might be forced to do in life, and then, what would it be like if the person had to do it twice?

I was 43 years old at the time and I remember how excited I was after completing the draft. I read the story and revised it at least a dozen times and I really liked it. I also remember the criticism I received after sharing the story in a writing workshop. Instead of providing guidance on how to improve the story, the instructor suggested that I change the story, and quite drastically. I remember she said, ďIf it were me, I would change the plot altogether and . . .Ē

Well, needless to say, I didnít feel very good after that discussion. I thought about the instructorís comments and I re-read the story many, many times. In the end, I decided that I liked the story just the way I wrote it. I can live with that decision. It may not be the best story I ever wrote, but itís important to me in that it really defines the beginning of my writing career. Iím happy to say that the story is included in my new short story collectionówhich also carries the title, No Turning Backóthat was just released on April 29, 2014.


What are you reading right now?

I tend to have a number of different books going at the same time, and Iím juggling a bit right now. Iím reading The Tenth of December, the new short story collection from George Saunders. Iím also reading Brown Dog, the new collection of novellas by Jim Harrison. Lastly, Iím reading the new novel, Lost in the Ivy, by my friend and fellow Chicago Writers Association member, Randy Richardson. Each of the books is so very different, and I like switching back-and-forth between them based upon how Iím feeling on a given day. Diversityóitís good for me.


What's the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

I am a student of The School of Prolific Writers. I find that I am able to learn the most from those writers who have come before me and who have produced the most successfully published stories. You can take your pick of your favorites and there are a lot of them, but they will all suggest the same advice: get the words down onto the page.

We can talk about writing, plan for it, and study for it, but in the end, the only way to become a successful writer is to actually sit down and write.


If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because...

Iím going to stick my neck out (did I really say that?) and say that my writing is most like a giraffe. I donít think I necessarily do it intentionally, but sometimes when I am finished with a story, it seems that what Iíve written ends up being a bit outside of my comfort zone, that Iíve stretched out and reached beyond what I thought I might do as a writer. As a result, I might question myself on occasion. What will someone think of what Iíve written?

I write about ideas, topics, and things that interest me and that come to me based upon everything that Iíve crammed into my head over the years. I write what I feel I am supposed to write. In the end, itís important for me to just go with it, to finish the story and share it. Every writer has likely encountered the situation where he or she has questioned the validity of his or her writing. I know I have done it, and I think itís healthy. Itís good to evaluate yourself and your writing. However, you have to push your own boundaries. You canít let what anyone says, or what you think someone may say, stop you. You have to keep sticking your neck out.