Writing Show Recap: The Writer Whisperer

How do you respond when the little voice inside your head tells you your writing is awful? This voice, of course, is the same one that—just the night before—assured you a Newberry Award was within reach. What do you do when you can’t stop revising the same sentence? How do you feel when a potential agent rejects your manuscript as “unrealistic”—and he is talking about your autobiography?

Published authors Valley Haggard, Eliezer Sobel and Louise Hawes—with award-winning writer Gigi Amateau serving as moderator—discussed such maddening moments at JRW’s Writing Show on Thursday, April 25 at the Children’s Museum of Richmond. While each of these writers tackles stumbling blocks in a different manner, they all advocate clearing the mind to make way for creativity. The brain is like a rusty faucet, Sobel told the audience. You have to let the brown water run a while before clear liquid can emerge.

There is no single formula for cleaning clutter from the mind. Sobel led the audience in an exercise using closed eyes, a strumming guitar and a wordless melody to remove thoughts of “I . . .I. . . I.” Haggard starts each workshop she teaches by instructing her students to spend time completing an unfinished statement she gives them. Hawes relies on meditation and free writing to find clarity.

Haggard, Sobel and Hawes commented on feelings of inadequacy and writer’s block. Sobel is a self-described “binge writer” who writes only when he feels he has something to say. At those times, the words come so rapidly he can work uninterrupted for twelve or fifteen hours at a time. While Hawes believes it can be difficult, if not impossible, for writers to pen their thoughts immediately after tragedies such as 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, she has no patience for people who say, “I can’t write today.” She believes writing requires discipline and feels she accomplished more as a single mother working full-time than she does now that she has the freedom of an empty nest. Haggard says that ten minutes a day can add up and told the tale of a woman who drafted a book by spending her lunch hours writing in a toilet stall at work.

The panel discussed some of the challenges of writing in a fast-paced, changing world. The Internet is a wonderful tool for research, but without discipline, a writer can waste time. “Do not expect your book to change your life,” Sobel warned. Getting published used to be the end of a journey; now it is the start of an adventure. A publishing industry in flux affects the writer’s role in marketing his or her work. The burden to publicize a book now falls on the author, not the publisher.

Writing requires discipline, but Sobel offered some humorous advice to anyone disheartened by the demands of the creative life. He saw the following message posted outside a Thai monastery: “Cut yourself some slack. In a hundred years, all new people.”

By Kathleen Sams Flippen, Writer/Owner of Spaces by KSF

Coming Up at the Next Writing Show

Thursday, May 30, 2013
6:30–8:30pm
Children’s Museum of Richmond

At our May Writing Show, “The Gritty Truth About Editing,” debut author Virginia Pye and manuscript consultant and author Nancy Zafris will discuss the editing process that resulted in the publication of Pye’s novel, River of Dust. Learn what had to change and about Pye’s 20-year writing journey. Moderated by Patti Smith.

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