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ADVICE TO ASPIRING WRITERS

So many people yearn for the inspired self-expression that writing provides. If putting pen to paper is the creative mode that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, bursting with ideas, plunge in. Some artists find exquisite pleasure in painting or sculpting. But if playing with words lifts your heart, there are multiple paths for you. Trust your intuition to find the type of writing that suits you best. Even if you have to squeeze it into pre-dawn or late evening hours, trust that you are following a path which will be more rewarding than you can imagine.

What are you burning to write? When I began publishing I wanted to contribute to a national conversation about race and gender equity. As a white woman who'd once married an African American man, and as the mother of our biracial children, I had a perspective I hoped might provide a bridge for white people. I'd long been a passionate feminist, too, so I felt that my subject matter was cut out for me.


Equally important, I loved the mere act of writing, playing with words, creating well-crafted sentences. For years I'd poured my ideas into a journal, which exercised the writing muscle. And I'd always read voraciously, but eventually I learned to read like a writer, analyzing structures or marveling at inventive images.

 

Finally, after trying short stories, poetry, and academic fulminations, I found a form that suited me perfectly: personal essays. I could easily draw on my own experiences in story form, then put them in a social context. Even though my topics were serious, a light tone naturally emerged, surprising me. It seemed as though I was born to write Op-Eds. Fortunately, USA Today and other papers soon printed some; eventually I published more. It turned out all those years of multicultural living had provided enough juicy material for several lifetimes of writing. A publisher turned a group of the essays into a book, The Future of White Men and Other Diversity Dilemmas, and I was launched as an author.

 

Once I felt I'd exhausted my insights and anecdotes about current cultural dilemmas I turned to biography, with its strictures of accuracy. That took me four years of learning and practicing a new literary form. Then, exhausted, I made the turn to novels. How hard can fiction be, I thought, after the rigors of journalism? "You just make stuff up." Ha ha. Several years of humble-pie learning ensued until I did publish two novels.

What I've found, after all these years, is that the sheer act of creating sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, still gives me joy, no matter what I am writing. Exploring many genres has kept me interested in the craft, with the challenge of constant learning.

 

Today I look back at those initial personal essays and understand that their publication fundamentally changed me. It marked my evolution from a woman who'd always "wanted to be a writer" to one who, finally, was one.

 

I encourage you to "apply butt to chair," as the old saying goes, and let your heart release the words you've been longing to write. Experiment. Be bold. Try different forms until you settle into one that feels as though it fits you like your favorite pair of jeans. Made for you.

 

Don't let anyone tell you that writing is a frivolous pastime. It's not. Storytelling, in every form, is our genetic and cultural heritage. Keep the gift alive. And may you be blessed on your journey.

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