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Friday Speak Out!: What You Need To Become a Writer: Tips From Author Anna Quindlen


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by Claudine Wolk

I adore books about writing. The whole process is fascinating to me. How thrilling is it to write a book and then see it published and sold? As a reader, I am fascinated with the writing process as well. I wonder how the author came up with their idea and how they developed the skill to keep readers intrigued. Two of my favorite books by authors about the writing process is Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. When I heard that author Anna Quindlen was coming to Doylestown to my town speak and had a book out about writing, Write for Your Life, I purchased a ticket immediately.

I arrived at the Life Science’s building on my local university’s campus just as the sun was setting on an April evening. Clusters of girlfriends and a few couples hurriedly approached the entrance doors, so I knew I was in the right place. Once the audience was seated, Ms. Quindlen was promptly introduced and led to two single seats at center stage.

All About Writing and Why It Is a Lost Art

For the next few minutes, Quindlen encouraged the audience to write. “Where would we be without the diary of Ann Frank,” she mused? “How will the people who come after us know us if we no longer write and leave them something?” “Email and texts are great,” she said, “but the Letters of Albelard and Heloise they are not.” “Writing is so important, she intoned, “because it’s a lost art.”

Quindlen talked about her teachers. Said she would not be a writer without them. She spoke about how lucky she feels to be able to earn a living by writing and that she has a son who is a writer but he has another occupation to make ends meet.

She talked about her relationship with her editor. Her editor is excellent and she listens to her editor. Her editor makes her books better. Even when Quindlen writes a passage she loves, if it does not move the story forward, it is taken out!

She talked about the movies that have been made from her books, meeting Meryl Streep and how surreal it was to be on a set that looked exactly like she had imagined it as she wrote about it. She shared that she feels that the movie versions of her books were true to her books and that she was pleased that the movies share the same title.

She also commiserated that as a NY Times, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, her columns were sometimes criticized for not being true while at the same time her fiction novels are often suspected as being true. The audience chuckled at that revelation.

Aspiring Writer Audience Members Ask Questions of Quindlen

A question-and-answer session was introduced by the host and the audience warmed up after the first brave soul raised her hand.

An aspiring writer asked how to make her writing less “weird? “Weird is good,” Quindlen said. “Weird sells.”

Questions of Quindlen’s writing process followed. She was asked: How do you write - in outline form? Where do you write - a separate room and separate house? Do you need complete peace and quiet?

One audience member pleaded for advice. “I have written a whole bunch of stuff and I don’t know how to put it into story format?” Quindlen suggested to get it all down first and trust that a story flow will emerge.

Another audience member asked how she could make a living from writing. “Don’t count on it,” chuckled Quindlen.

Another asked about her memoir research and shared, “Each of my family members gave me a different version of the same story, which one should I pick?” “The beauty of being the writer is that you get to pick the version of the story that works for you,” Quindlen soothed. “All versions are true.”

One audience member seemed in actual pain as she asked her question. She lamented that she felt she could not write unless she was away from her kids and husband alone in a cabin for hours at a time. Only then did she feel that she would be able to write. Quindlen was gentle with her and explained that she didn’t have the issue of young kids these days but the demands of motherhood were an issue for her years ago. Quindlen’s solution was to write when her kids went to school from 9:00 am when she dropped them off to 1:00 when she picked them up. To this day, she told us, those are her writing hours.

What You Need To Become a Writer


Finally, and for the second time that evening, Quindlen uttered a word that I believe is the key to becoming a writer.

Confidence

Maria Von Rapp famously sang about confidence in The Sound of Music, “I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that spring will come again, because which you see I have confidence in me!” You must have confidence to be a writer. You must have confidence that what you write is good enough to be written down, read by someone else, and out there in the world.

Anna Quindlen admitted to the audience that she musters confidence every time she sits down to write.

As she revealed this last admission, I felt the shoulders of the aspiring writers in the audience start to relax. As we gathered our things at the end of the presentation, my fellow audience members confessed that they were inspired to start writing. I was too.

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Claudine%20Wolk.jpgClaudine Wolk is an author, podcast host, and radio host. Follow her substack newsletter Get Your Book Seen and Sold or visit ClaudineWolk.com. Claudine lives with her husband, Joe, in Bucks County, PA and is working on her next book.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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