The California Writers Club Vice President, Scott Sonders, asked me if I would speak at the April 7th CWC meeting...for an entire HALF HOUR. He knows two things about me: One, I am passionate about writing. And two, I like to talk.
Me: Whaaah? What am I going to talk about for a half hour?
Scott: Think of it as an opportunity.
Me: Errrrrr....Okay...I guess.
Then I realized (Bwaa haaa haaa!!!) I would have an entire audience held captive - all mine - for a full half hour. That is an opportunity, considering I have a teenager who won't listen to me for one quarter of a second.
Anyway, I did speak at the CWC meeting this past Saturday. And it went well enough that some people even asked if I had copies of what I spoke about to take home. I didn't, since I just blathered what was in my head. So below I will write down the main things I spoke about.
Since the reason I come to the California Writer Club's meetings is to share ideas with other writers - in the way Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Stein might have held salons in 1920's era Paris - I thought it would be a chance to share with other writers. So I asked things I often wonder, to see if anyone could relate, like -
Why is it that some of the best writing ideas come at inappropriate times and odd places? Like when I'm in the shower, covered with soap and without a pen? (I told my husband I said this to an entire audience and he winced).
Do friends call you with wacky stories (what their crazy uncle did in the supermarket, for instance) thinking that you'll write about it?
Does anyone else find that when you finally have a quiet chunk of time to write, that's exactly when you get a mad urge to clean out your refrigerator vegetable bins?
Am I the only one who realizes all the changes I should have made to a piece after I've sent it off to the editor?
Does anyone else find their head gets crowded with critics and judges when they write - like Simon Cowell, Judge Judy and your parents are debating every word, each sentence and your complete merit?
And the worst...
Have you ever picked up a book in a bookstore and thought, I could've written this? But then you come to the realization - yes, but that writer actually did it. They took the time and effort it takes to write a book, and you (or I, rather) did not...yet.
----Then I passed around a questionnare, so that other writers could share their answers and I could compile them into a little hand out for the next meeting. I also gave my own answers to the questions to share with the audience.----
Q. What books do you keep near (or often refer to) when writing?
For me, I often get re-inspired by Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. All I have to do is read what she has to say about school lunches, and I need to grab my pen to capture the ideas in my head.
Also, I might read A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman, simply for the exquisite way she describes the senses; her writing is so good it's inspiring.
Q. What inspires you to write?
I enjoy trying new (sometimes odd) things, having experiences - like the time I took a writing class from a published rock groupie or a comedy class at Canoga Bowl. The funniest part of the entire evening at the "comedy" class was listening to an ice fisherman from Flin Flan, Canada discuss his trials during his employment search in Los Angeles. That made me laugh - an ice fisherman in Los Angeles trying to find work; the comedy teacher did not make me laugh. But the experience did give me something to write about.
Q. What writing pet peeves do you have?
For instance, cliches - which are almost cliche as far as writing pet peeves go. Here's one I have: the hyperbolic use of words, so that word usage is heading in the direction of the standing ovation. Everything is "amazing," "awesome" or "miraculous" these days. Just like Jay Leno's audience gives him a standing ovation Monday through Friday...diluting the specialness of the tribute. It used to be true legends like the late Ray Charles, etc. would be the rare person to receive a standing ovation, now I watch the American Music Awards and Mariah Carey even gets one. People are handing them out like handy wipes at the AM PM mini-mart. That's what's happening to words. Everyone is incredible these days, thus diluting the meaning.
I have to admit, I do this too. Though I try to make an effort to reserve my complimentary words for the deserving.
Q. What words of inspiration, philosophy or quote helps to motivate you?
I like this Somerset Maugham quote: "Only a mediocre writer is always at his best."
And I also like to remember that Erma Bombeck didn't have her column published until she was 38-years-old and Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't publish her first book until she was 65.
Because, unlike acrobats or gymnasts, we writers can write at any age. As a matter of fact, the older we get the more experiences we have to write about.
I had a lot more Q&A, but this post is getting rather long.
I then passed around some great publications, like The Sun Magazine, that seek submissions from freelance writers. And mentioned that I recently read a childhood friend's story in The Sun. She even wrote a piece about living in San Francisco State University's Student housing, as I did. But here's the interesting part, I think - she found the experience rather humilating, while I didn't. We lived in barrack-style, cockroach infested apartments. She wrote of being embarrassed of her make-shift bedroom, while I thought she had the coolest room on the block. Her dad, a theater set decorator, had gutted their pantry, and then created a bunk bed with a desk underneath. It was draped in tapestry, and felt special, like a secret haven. But she (the writer) found it too embarassing to even invite classmates home. Yet I never gave our economic status or our living conditions much thought at all, though the place - crawling with more latch-key kids than parents - has made me want to write about it.
As people (as writers) we may share similiar experiences with others, but have completely opposing perspectives. So as writers we shouldn't let that stop us from writing a story, simply because something has already been written. Write it, but from your own perspective - your own slant.
Anyway, I managed to blather away somewhere close to 30 minutes with minimal moments of shame (except, of course, discussing my shower habits). So I'll compile the answers to my questions from the other writers into a booklet. That way, I not only challenged myself but will also have something tangible from the day.