Questions for Writers

Recently I read the following Q & A on Sarah Brentyn’s blog Lemon Shark. She, in turn, had found it on Little Lodestar, where writer Kristen had posted a series of questions entitled Nine Things I Wonder About Other Writers. Well, Sarah asked her readers to post their answers, and as mine, I thought, were too long to leave in the comments, here are my responses:

Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

Very, very rarely. Every once in a while, I feel as though I need an opinion from a non-writer, usually pre-publication. My boyfriend will read my work if I specially ask him to, and he generally offers some pretty solid opinions. But he isn’t really a reader – his idea of compelling literature is homebrew magazines – so it’s unlikely that he’ll ever read any of my novels. To me, this is probably just as well. Some of my work might raise questions that I’m not sure I want to answer!

How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it?

I somehow manage never to tell anyone when I’ve had something published, so it’s rare that this happens. In fact, up until a few months ago, when I formally announced that I was releasing a memoir, most of my friends didn’t even know I was writing. Somehow it just never came up. Again, to me, this is just as well, because some of my work might raise questions that I’m not sure I want to answer!

What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

So far, I only have a few pieces that I’ve given up on all together. For the most part, I believe that getting work published is mostly a matter of finding the right market. However, for those that repeatedly get rejected, I do reconsider whether they’re just difficult to place because of their subject matter or nature, or whether they actually stink. Stories that I still think are good I might post on my blog or story-sharing sites. Those that I suspect are completely unusable I would like to one day post on my blog, and solicit opinions as to why they stink.

Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

This has only happened to me once so far. Very early in my writing career, before I even had any publishing credits, I wrote a very long article – nearly a paper, if you will – analyzing the marriage penalty as it applies to taxation in the United States. It was a subject in which I was interested, anyway, and I had hoped to be able to get it published in one of a handful of financial magazines. However, I never received a response to my first query, and in the meantime, I had moved on to other things. Well, in the interim, a new year rolled around and there were tax law changes that affected some of my numbers. I would have had to rerun numerous scenarios in order to update the article – which was heavy on figures – and by then, I was having work published regularly and was no longer so desperate to garner credits. However, I still wouldn’t say I’ve given up on the idea. I may still revisit it two or three or five years from now, when I feel like sinking my teeth into something more academic again.

What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

That’s an interesting question. Reading it, I realize that I very rarely – if ever – read magazines or journals or anthologies or books of essays by one writer. Nowadays, I do read blogs with a fair amount of regularity, but I still wouldn’t say that those are my main source of reading-based inspiration. In fact, if I had to identify one, I would probably say that more of my ideas come from nonfiction. I very much enjoy reading history, and it’s actually quite rare for me to read a whole book of it without getting at least one new idea.

What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

It depends on the type of work. Most of my novels contain characters inspired by people I know in real life, and the settings in which I place them often mirror my own life scenarios. This is why my books’ pivotal events tend to transpire at beer festivals or while camping, because, evidently, I write what I know. However, for the other half of my writing life, in which I blog, write flash fiction and short stories, even essays, I tend to find more inspiration from what I read.

Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

Winston Churchill. Seriously, that guy was brilliant, and his writing is amazing. I’m very grateful that he played such an important role in history, and at a time in which voice recording existed. YouTube will keep Churchill’s words alive long after his written work has fallen deep into oblivion.

Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I also find the American Heritage Guide to English Usage to be extremely useful.

Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax?

Not yet. I did, however, have a rather unpleasant moment a while back, when I first began having erotic work published. Most of my erotica is more humorous than dirty – or at least half-and-half. However, there was one piece in particular that surpassed the bounds of my usual work – the kind of story you would never admit to your mother or even your third cousin twice removed that you’d written it. Well, as it happened, I discovered around that time that my boss was reading my blog! Suddenly I felt very awkward about publicizing this particular publication. It wasn’t that I was ashamed or embarrassed about it, exactly – I was simply afraid of being subjected to questions. Somehow I just did not want to have that conversation with my employer – not to mention the fact that it probably would have changed how he looked at me from then on. Kind of a weird feeling. I still took ownership of the piece – in fact, it’s in my collection To All the Penises I’ve Ever Known – but even there, I didn’t want to comment on it extensively. That was when I first realized that I’m perfectly comfortable writing about things that I would never, ever say. So please, no follow-up questions – at least not if you meet me!

How about you? What kinds of things do you wonder about other writers? I know of one question that I’d add to the list.

What is your lifetime goal for your writing? You know, not the hard-headed, realistic version that you tell other people, but the starry-eyed, big dream scenario that you’re too scared to share?

 

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

14 thoughts on “Questions for Writers

  1. Charli Mills

    What fascinates me about your writing path is that you do manage to bring your eclectic pieces to publication. I think you model the “hybrid” author well. Funny about your writing things you wouldn’t want your boyfriend to read. I used to write what I called “naughty” stories but they were intended for an audience of one–my husband. I used to be a chronic journaler and had so many notebooks sprawled around the house. I used to write the naughty stories in the middle of a notebook…I don’t know, I guess that was my lame way of “hiding” it. So one day, my eldest runs out of notepaper for school, gets into my stack of journals and takes what she thinks is an empty notebook. Several weeks later, she’s taking notes in Spanish class and comes across one of my stories. Evidently it made the rounds at her high school and she finally told me about it last summer (she’s now 26)! I was mortified…but took ownership of my story! :-)

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Oh, how horrible! It’s one thing having strangers read your naughty work – another when it’s your kid! Just not right. However, I don’t doubt that that made you the most popular mom in school ;)

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  2. Sarah Brentyn

    Happy you answered these, Lori. I was looking forward to your answers (particularly #3 and #4). I think you’re right about finding the right market. There are so many out there now and if something if “off” just a tiny bit, the tone isn’t quite right, it won’t be a fit. But there are other markets to search — just takes time. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. TanGental

    Interesting you chose Winnie C as your writing hero. Esp his spoken word. I caught a discussion on the radio today about why, given his popularity rating in January 1945 was around 85%, when the first general election came round later that year his party (the Conservatives) were roundly thrown out and Churchill ceased to be Prime Minister. The Labour party under Clement Atlee were elected with a large majority and subsequent analysis suggests it was the troops abroad whose votes largely accounted for his party’s loss. Perhaps he was too identified with wartime and a tired people wanted a different approach – homes fit for heroes, that sort of thing. But it has always fascinated me.

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      That’s an interesting story, Geoff. I wonder what would have happened to FDR had he lived? My guess is that he, too, would have reminded people of the Great Depression and the War. Maybe following a catastrophe like WWII, you can’t help but want to usher in a new era.

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