On Saturday I participated in my first author panel with a fellow local writer in the Northern Virginia area, Angela Glascock (Locksmith at the End of the World) and moderated by another local writer, Lisa Tully.
Author panels are meant to give the audience insight on novels, authors and the writing process. But, I learned a few things too, including it seems as though we writers have a lot in common.
Here are some of the commonalities I noticed.
We wrote as children, all the time
As a kid, I remember writing all the time. I filled notebooks with stories and poems. They’d be stuff in drawers and boxes. When we’d clean out my room they’d turn up in random places. It was even an activity with my friends. While other kids were playing with toys or riding bikes, I’d rather be writing a book. Lucky for me I had a few friends who would play along.
Turns out, at least if the author panel is any indication, that seems to be a common trait for writers. And I’ve read and heard this before about other writers, not all, but many.
Writing is a compulsion
I constantly send myself texts and emails with thoughts about the books I’m writing no matter where I am. I might see a brand of soap at target that gives me an idea and stop in the middle of the aisle to send myself several paragraphs filled with typos and weird auto-corrected words I have to figure out later.
Or I’ll lie awake at night thinking and an idea will hit me. I’ll grab a sticky note and write it down in the dark. Of course in the morning I have to try to decipher my own writing and figure out what “Otter kicks sparsely shoes,” scrawled directly on top of “School bee fang,” actually meant at 3 am.
The author panel helped me realize I’m not alone in this madness. Other authors do this too. Apparently, my co-panel member scribbles down stories in her car while waiting for her daughter to be released from school, sometimes confusing the other people waiting because she accidentally honks the horn a few times.
We think about words, to the point of borderline obsession
It’s not surprising that writers think about words and their meanings. But, we might take the word “think” to another level, maybe one that’s a little crazy.
Here’s a very writerly example. As we sat waiting for the event to start, Angela, Lisa and I talked about what it means to be a writer vs an author. That may seem trivial or even a non-distinction to many people. But, to writers, that’s a concept we consider.
What is the difference? I can’t say for sure. But, we seemed to agree that you could be an author and not necessarily a writer. Sometimes people author books based on experiences, even though they aren’t writers. (Think politicians, etc). A writer is a different animal. A writer is like a shark. Write or die (at least metaphorically.)
It’s hard for us to show people our work
I waited nearly 8 years before I let anyone in my family read The Travelers. That’s one of the reasons it took me ten years from first draft to publication. I was terrified to show it to anyone. Although I don’t find it surprising that other writers feel this way, it did make me feel a little better to hear I’m not alone in this neurosis.
We make up stories about random strangers in our heads
When I read The Girl on the Train, about a woman who rides a train every day and becomes obsessed with a couple she sees through the window, she even gives them names and personalities, I thought I would totally do that. In fact it’s one of my favorite activities when I’m sitting in an airport. I’ve definitely looked at some guy sitting alone eating a sandwich, looking disheveled and tired and decided he is a workaholic who doesn’t have time for a family. He eats a lot of fast food, lives in a small apartment with boring furniture and has a cat. He’s seen a lot of places but isn’t very worldly. All he wants to really do is buy a house in the wilderness and raise alpaca.
I used to never wanted to admit I do this. It sounds really creepy. But, during the author panel, I found out I was not alone. Other authors do this too! Of course I’m basing this generalization on a sample size of three. Still, it made me feel better to know this might be the writer in me and I’m not just a crazy lunatic (at least not for this reason).
We love to read books and learn from the writing of others
During the panel we talked about our favorite books, the kinds of books we like to read. We also discussed how books influenced our writing and that there are writers who don’t read books. They feel it influences their writing process.
My guess is there aren’t many writers who feel this way. The three of us certainly didn’t. I think there is much to be learned from the writing of others. To me, a writer who doesn’t read it because may taint his or her own writing, is like a musician who doesn’t want to listen to any other music because it might ruin his or her songs.
We all struggle to balance life and writing
If it were up to me I’d either be reading or writing every second of the day I’m not spending with my family. Unfortunately, I have to stop and eat and occasionally exercise because it’s important to stay healthy. And I also have a day job and many other responsibilities that keep me from writing or reading every hour that I’m not sleeping.
Again, it felt good to know I wasn’t alone in this struggle.
We want other people to think
For a writer, the goal of writing isn’t just pure entertainment. The goal of writing is to use entertainment to make people think. We want them to reconsider the world, perhaps relate to it in a different way than before. Our goal is to expose people to an idea or reinforce an ideal. It’s a lofty ambition. I suppose, if you’re able to do that, it makes you a “good” writer. But what makes a “good” writer might be a blog for another day.
But, I learned from the panel that this is another trait we all seem to have in common, again if I can base an assumption of the thoughts of only three writers. Still, I think I can glean something from it and this is my favorite one.
Thanks to Scrawl books for hosting the event! And Girl Scout Troop 56002 for organizing! It was great fun and I learned so much! Until next time!