A writer writes alone, “for oneself and for strangers,” as Gertrude Stein put it. Most learn their craft from others, however, through a combination of imitation and study.
I certainly have.
E.B. White, Joseph Mitchell, George Orwell, James Baldwin, J. Anthony Lukas, Susan Orlean, Rick Bragg, Anne Hull, Janet Malcom: I’ve felt their influence as a reporter and columnist.
Always, I return to Anton Chekhov, for his humanity and gift of understatement.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez demonstrates the use of magic realism and the blending of the fantastic with the ordinary. He was a journalist well before making his name as a novelist.
W.G. Sebald I admire for that amazing sound, his hovering presence as the melancholic narrator, the boldness of his genre bending.
Mavis Gallant serves up lessons on control and reminds me that stories typically have ambiguous endings.
Then, I love to read those masters of rhythm, Willa Cather and Virgina Woolf.
And I can’t forget to include, for sheer inspiration, Molly Ivins, the late, great Texan columnist. She jolts me, again and again, out of the safety zone where I believe too many newspaper opinion writers run and hide.
“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it,” she wrote in what, for me, has become something of a personal anthem.
“Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ *** and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”
This Saturday, a one-day writing conference takes place at the Jackson County Library: A Day for Writers.
The workshops will cover useful topics such as marketing and publishing, poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, young adult and children’s works and playwriting.
“While writing is a solitary art, we still need a community of writers,” Glenda Beall, program coordinator for North Carolina Writers’ Network-West, told me. “Like any group of like-minded people, we want and need to talk to others, to share our hangups, our successes and to build our community.”
Conferences such as this bring together beginners as well as more experienced writers, allowing them to learn from qualified instructors without traveling to big cities.
“Even well-published writers come away from a good writing conference motivated and ready to go home and write,” Beall said.
The instructors are Kay Byer, a Cullowhee resident and former state poet laureate; Terry Cay, author of 17 published works; Catherine Carter, a poet and Western Carolina University professor; Tara Lynne Groth, a nonfiction magazine and newspaper writer; Deanna Klingel, who writes primarily for young-adult readers; and Gary Carden, Sylva’s own expert in folk drama.
Beall correctly noted we are blessed in this region with many generous writers and poets.
“All of us started at the bottom learning our craft and submitting our work to be published,” she said. “Those who have been successful recognize the effort it takes to continue after receiving rejections.
“A rejection of our submissions is like a personal rejection to the beginning writer and some stop writing all together. Our kind and caring writers such as we will have at A Day for Writers encourage and motivate others. In some way, we all act as mentors for those who are in the early stages of their writing career.”
I plan to attend. Here’s hoping other writers in the community turn out, too. It’s a great opportunity for all of us to support one another in our work.
Chaucer said it best: “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.”
But what fun it can be, beloveds!
Quintin Ellison is the editor of The Sylva Herald.