They’ve been there, done that: Learning from writers who forged the path ahead of us
I love talking to other writers. I especially love to hear about their writing process, how they’ve found success and overcome struggles. Sometimes when we see a published book, or a series of published books, we think, that could never be me. But once we talk to a writer up close and personal, we see that we are all human, all struggling with the same insecurities, doubts, and finding the right word.
This week I had two visiting writers in the university writing classes I teach: Howard Coffin, author of Nine Months to Gettysburg: Stannard’s Vermonters and the Repulse of Pickett’s Charge and Tom Bowman, NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
We all garnered a lot of wisdom from these seasoned writers, and I wanted to share some of it with you.
Howard offered many aphorisms on writing and the writing life, which I share with you here in no particular order. If you like them, share them via twitter by simply clicking on the bird. Tweet!
Channeling Frost, whom he met here in Vermont, Coffin said “The completion of the creative act is the receipt of the check.”
Referencing a recent lunch with another Vermont icon, Jodi Picoult, Coffin said “The hardest thing about writing is going up those stairs every day.”
“If you’re going to write, you need courage.”
“Sometimes to make a living as a writer, you can’t do exactly as you please.”
“Lincoln is one of America’s 10 best writers.”
“This writing business can drive you crazy, but there’s no feeling the in world like having someone hand you the first book you write.”
“Always hand your writing to someone else. You cannot edit your own copy.”
Tom Bowman talked about his extensive experience as a reporter, embedded with troops in the Middle East. Paraphrasing an editor at his former position at The Baltimore Sun, Boman said “With writing, I want to smell the camel dung.” It is true that any time we can bring in sensory information to our writing, we are providing a full experience for our readers.
Bowman also compared his work in newspapers to his current job at NPR. “With newspapers it’s prose. With radio, if it’s done right, it’s poetry.”
What advice from writers who’ve been there, done that has shaped you into the writer you are today? Tell me about it in the comments section below.
More Writerly thoughts
I edit an online journal on writing and the writing life called Chair and Pen. Here are some of the articles published this week.
- The Joy of Thank You Note Writing By Heidi Bender
- Too many cooks spoil the cupcakes: How to solicit the best feedback from the get-go By Annalisa Parent
- Writing by Inspiration By James Rizzo
Got an idea for an article on writing or the writing life? Send your pitch here to see your words in print.
There are two books that I always go back to when I’m having a particularly difficult time writing. Those are: “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott and “On Writing” by Stephen King. My copy of “On Writing” is worn out from use, little notes scribbled in the margins. I think it’s so important to refer to those who have been there, done that. As a writer, you are a storyteller, and the best way to become a storyteller is to listen to the stories of others. Every single author has a unique story about how they got to where they are, and each one is inspiring. That’s why I’m so excited to be participating in the Writing Gym Podcast with Annalisa. It’s such a joy to hear how each of these people got to where they are today and how their journey has shaped their writing. I can’t wait for everyone to listen!