Monday, September 6, 2010
Extroversion and the aspiring writer
Beyond being a little embarrassing, this is a good question. Writing teachers (including myself) are always telling prospective writers to stop talking about writing and just write. This is not easy advice for me to accept. I’ve talked about writing for my whole life, starting literally in first grade. However, a while back, as I got to end of my thirties, I realized that I hadn’t really done much about it (by much, I mean I’d written virtually nothing except for three bad, bad, bad college short stories, each with a title which, read aloud, would make you want to hide under a table).
However, never one to let my dreams be deterred by decades of procrastination, I continued to fantasize. I moved back to home state of North Carolina. I had this secret, completely unrealistic idea that once I was back with my people, I would get around to that novel I’d been bragging about for ten years. Of course, my two toddlers, my consulting practice and a husband all moved with me to Carrboro—quickly filling up the house and most of my waking hours. I might have swept my writing dream out of my back door altogether if I hadn’t registered for a writers’ workshop at my alma mater, Duke University.
At Duke, my teacher was Darnell Arnoult (SAVING GRACE), a fantastic writer, and incidentally, another extrovert. I loved my evenings in the company of other writers and the peer pressure paid off. Soon, I found myself writing about the people and places I had known growing up in Surry County, NC. By the time I had finished 100 pages, a few of us in the class had formed a writing group. Darnell joined as a member, and eventually, we recruited Pamela Duncan (BIG BEAUTIFUL) and Virginia Boyd (ONE FELL SWOOP) to join the group, and after some coming and goings of other writers, the group solidified into just the four of us.
It was within the close society of these women, that I became a writer. Sure, I did the work myself, in the (relative) quiet of my own room, but it was the group that propelled me forward. I found time to write each week because there were three people dying to know what would happen to my characters. Most meetings, we read a whole week’s production out aloud: the good, the bad and the ugly. We talked about our work, our lives, our bad hair; we talked about everything. And along the way, we wrote novels. It was an amazing thing to witness, page by page, the slow growth of each friend’s work.
Of course, the voices of my writing group friends are not the only ones I hear. As I have progressed as a writer, I have learned that I write mostly with my ear, that I hear the voices of my characters. So, for me, writing is just another exercise in speaking—speaking on behalf of people from all walks of life, speaking in service of a story. So, in that way, I’ve never actually been required shut up and write.
As a last note, let me say a big thanks to Kathy Patrick, our new fearless leader. Kathy, you are indeed a force of nature and one of the best talkers I’ve ever met! You are particularly effective at speaking on behalf of writers and their work—so, I can’t wait to see where you might take us all.
Lynn York is the author of The Piano Teacher (2004) and The Sweet Life (2007). She lives in Chapel Hill, NC. Her website is www.lynnyork.com.