intro and other stuff

Tanaquil2 at Tanaquil2 at
Sun Aug 29 16:03:48 EDT 1999

In a message dated 8/29/99 1:55:20 AM Eastern Daylight Time, 
mwarner at writes:

>I'll start by introducing myself. My name is Antonia, I'm 15, and I'm
>Chilean (as in from South America). I moved to Tucson AZ about three years
>ago, so I speak english now. I read a lot (which helped me learn english)

        Hi!  Hooray!  More DWJ fans!

>I concluded that us DWJ fans are forced to walk this
>earth isolated from each other for some unknown reason. 

        It *does* feel like that!

>So you can imagine
>my joy at finding all this people that like her as much as I do =)

        It's great, isn't it!

>I want to be a writer in the future, although
>I'm not sure I have enough potential. Any writers out there? Any tips? =)

        I write too, and wanted to since I was nine.   After many years of 
trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid it, and feeling horrribly guilty, I finally 
admitted to myself that it is what I want to do more than anything, and what 
I'm meant to be doing, even if the only people who ever read my writing are 
me and those family members who can't run away fast enough (ie my husband and 
my daughter).  My husband writes also, and in fact we met in a creative 
writing class in college twelve or thirteen years ago.  My daughter (8 years 
old, 9 next month) writes too, with a great deal of vivid imagination and 
subtle humour. (<---me glowing with pride!)
        I don't know if I could be presumptuous enough to give 'tips' since 
I'm not published yet.  (yes, I'm a coward when it comes to actually sending 
my stuff out into the cruel hard world.  They're not ready yet, I cry.)  But 
I can share  things that people have told me, and that I've found helpful.  
I've found that among the writers I've met, the first quality we've all had 
in common is that *compulsion* to write.  It's not enough to want to have 
written (daydreaming about booksignings and how Ms. Smith in Grade 5 will 
have to eat her words now) because that alone won't get you past the actual 
task of sitting down everyday to stare at a blank piece of paper, or a blank 
computer screen.  So that desire must be there, and it must be enough to keep 
you persisting through all the days when you think that what you're saying is 
pointless and boring and you wonder who you think you are anyway.  And 
*especially* when other people ask the same thing.
        The second thing writers have in common is an infatuation with 
reading.  I've yet to meet a writer who doesn't read, or didn't read when 
they were starting out.  (Some don't because it colours their own writing too 
much, but even they start out reading a lot).  They read because they can't 
live without stories.  It's the story that's the bottom line.  I loved what 
Deborah (I think it was you) quoted about the PJF scribblies (I always 
wondered what PJF stood for!)  Stories should be accessible or why are you 
telling them?  They should be direct and honest not hidden behind theory and 
intellect.  That's not to say you can't write 'intelligently' but all that 
technique etc needs to be subservient to the story, not a substitute for it.  
I think that's why DWJ is so amazing, and why we all keep coming back to her 
again and again.  She's got the intellectual background, the training, but 
she's never lost sight of the goal (story) as so many do who become totally 
enamoured of their own brainpower.  She uses the training to add layers, 
depth to her work.  Her stories are extremely sophisticated--the ideas, the 
plots, everything.  But the language is always clear.  We have *access* to 
what she's saying.  To write in a way that deliberately excludes certain 
readers and creates a clique of 'intellectual' readers who 'get' you, is, I 
think, a shabby, meanspirited thing to do, and also presumptuous.  The world 
is not peopled with morons (though people may be thoughtless or blind or 
cruel sometimes) and it's the rare individual who hasn't had to bear 
something unbearable.  But most people just quietly get on with it because 
there's nothing else for them to do.  All these people recognize the 'truth' 
in a story because it's a reflection of their own experience.  And anyone who 
says different, who says that only the most 'sensitive' people living in some 
rarefied atmosphere can understand, is lying.
        Antonia, you mentioned that you were worried you might not have 
enough potential.  Just cast your mind back to all the times you've rushed 
back home bursting with something that happened that day, and described it in 
the most dramatic terms to your mom, or to a friend on the phone.  Think 
about the times someone else did the same to you, told you of some terrible 
thing they saw, or described some hilarious thing that made you laugh so hard 
you just about fell on the floor.  Storytelling is something everyone knows 
how to do.  You learn it so you can communicate, you learn it from the minute 
you're born.  That's not to say everyone can write from the minute they're 
born.  But that's because there are certain skills and techniques that 'work' 
in writing.  But these techniques can be *learned*.  You can learn about 
structure (cause and effect), about plot (not just that something happened, 
but *why* it happened), about character (that people grow and change and 
learn from what happens, they don't just stay the same from birth to death).  
These are things you know unconsciously; as a writer you just have to 
'relearn' them so that you know them consciously and can use them to best 
effect to make your story the strongest it can be.
        You have a facility for language, a sensitivity to it (you're 
bilingual).  That helps.  Also, you have a love of reading, and you're 
reading the good stuff.  That's really important.  Read for story, and read 
to see how you would write that story differently.  Everyone learns in 
different ways.  Me, I need to be hit on the head.  I need someone to say 
bluntly "Dialogue should reveal character.  What a character *doesn't* say 
can reveal as much about that person, *and* whom they're talking to, as what 
they do say".  Someone says that to me and I go, "Oh, now I get it."  It 
makes sense to me, so I can absorb it.  Some people, though, can get all that 
simply by reading a writer who does dialogue well.  They learn to write by a 
sort of osmosis.  My husband is like that, and I just don't know how he does 
it.  I think it may have something to do with what my daughter tells me when 
I moan about the fact that I have no sense of direction  (I mean literally.  
I can get lost in a room).  She says, "Mom, you just have to pay attention."  
In either case, read the good stuff, and if you read the not-so-good stuff, 
practise rewriting it to make it better.  You'll be teaching yourself *why* 
something works or doesn't work.
        But finally, there's no substitute for actually physically writing. 
Write, write, write; every day if possible, even if it's just a paragraph.  I 
teach creative writing workshops for children, so I wouldn't be surprised if 
there's someone in your area doing something similar.  If there isn't, start 
a writing group for other teens.  Meet once a week at your house, or at the 
library, or downtown in a coffee shop.  But try to find other writers.  There 
are tons of books with sample exercises to get you going.  Try the education 
section or the writing / reference section at your local bookstores.  Books 
put out by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative are excellent, but there are 
lots more.
        I really recommend finding other writers, and joining a group, 
because they will help you take your writing seriously.  Joining a writing 
workshop was what really got me back on track with my writing.  It was so 
*weird* being in a room with all these people who didn't think it was odd in 
the least to sit down day after day with a notebook and pencil.  Reading 
aloud that first time was just about the scariest thing I've ever done in my 
life, but people actually listened, and they didn't laugh (except where I 
meant them to in the story!).  Somehow, I just couldn't get over that, and 
when I went home that night, I couldn't sleep, I just wandered around the 
house grinning like an idiot.  It was as if I'd stumbled on some secret spy 
cell or something.  Imagine my surprise when I started bumping into more and 
more of these 'closet' writers.  Finally, I saw an adverstisement in "Poets 
and Writers" magazine announcing a MFA program in Writing for *Children* at 
Vermont College.  Well!  After I finished pinching myself, I realized that 
there really wasn't any more excuse for me not to be writing.  So I applied, 
and here I am in my second semester, with only two more to go.  This 
experience, more than anything, has enabled me to be serious about my own 
work.  So try and find other writers, writing classes, writing workshops, 
(look in the newspaper classifieds, try the community colleges) and if there 
are none, start one yourself.  (Useful tip: make the snacks *good*--not many 
people can resist brownies, so they'll keep coming back for those at least!  
Tip 2: keep the atmosphere safe, be supportive of each other, or people will 
not come back.  Workshop material is delicate and unformed.  Say what you 
liked about someone's piece, what's working for you, what you remember.  
Don't rewrite each other's work.  That's the equivalent of someone telling 
you that what you have to say is worthless, and you can't even say it right.  
It's stealing someone's voice.  Find a way to remove anyone who show this 
distressing tendency!  ;))
        I'll share two sets of tips--one from my advisor last semester, and 
one from one of the first graduates of the program:

        1) You must write.  Put aside time for it.
        2)Take yourself seriously.  Don't make jokes about your writing.
        3)No isolation.  Find other writers.
        4)You do not have writer's block.
        5)Remember you are on a journey, and the journey goes on.

#4 means write something, anything. It may not be good, but somewhere in the 
masses of freewriting, there will probably be some seed, some nugget that 
sets you off on a story.
#5 means you never know everything as a writer.  You will find that every 
day, every year, you will find yourself learning more about the craft.

        Graduate Assistant:
        1)Butt in the chair
        2)Read the good stuff
        3)Trust the process

#3 means if you sit down with a pencil in your hand, something will come out. 
 The more you do it, the more you will find that it's true.  You'll learn to 
trust the process of writing.  Don't *think* too much about writing, just (to 
quote Nike) do it.
        Anyway, this is *way* longer than I intended, but I hope it's useful. 
 I probably should have just sent it to Antonia alone, but on the off chance 
there are closet writers out there (statistically likely, I've learned) this 
is for you too.  So what are you waiting for?  Go to it!  And tell us how it 
all turns out!


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