Monday, May 21, 2012

The First Rule of Being a Writer

(Fair warning: Many of my upcoming posts will come from notes I took during the recent Rosemary Beach Conference for Writers. I will try to remember to mark them as such.)

Day One. I arrive early. The first one to the town hall. JD and Cindy circle the cobblestone on bicycles and park. I say hello and immediately excuse myself, carrying my coffee down the hill toward the beach.

There's a man with a gas-powered leaf blower ahead of me on the sidewalk. He shoots air back and forth, oblivious as I close on him, my quiet walk rendered loud and not so alone. He stops walking and I stop behind him, wary of a wayward blast of air, noise and sand. He looks startled when I step into the street and pick up my pace to outdistance him.

Across the green now, standing on the boardwalk that leads to the shore: There's a blond woman with two blond children climbing the stairs, and an older man waiting for them. "Dugger! Dugger!" the kids squeal. He hugs them and they pass me by, headed back toward town.

I am invisible.

The gulf is flat, deep blue and jade.

Back at the Town Hall, JD tells me about his new novel project. Working title, "Regrets, Coyote." The editor doesn't like that one. Maybe, "Melancholy, Florida." Or maybe not. He's about to begin working through the editor's notes, and he hopes to "find the title in the text." The room fills.

We begin with the first rule of being a writer:

Thinking about writing is not writing. Neither is talking about it, or dreaming about it, or doing research, or whatever. To be a writer, one must write. (In one of our later discussions, a student says she has been working on lots of ideas; she has lots of stories, she just hasn't put anything on paper. "You aren't writing," John says. "You're not a writer." He isn't being rude, he's being honest. She may be a storyteller if she relates the stories orally, but if she isn't putting them into text, then she isn't writing.)

Anyway, our morning exercise is to write what we know: Write about ourselves, a memory of childhood from before you went to school. Your earliest memory if you will. Here's what I wrote:

I started school at 5 years old. Kindergarten. So there's a lot to say about the years prior. Some of my earliest memories are of a trip we took to Texas when I was 3. There may be other images or emotions I recall from before, but there's a bit of narrative with this memory.

My parents had bought me a Captain Action doll that I brought on the trip, and I remember standing by the swimming pool at a hotel where we had overnighted, holding my doll and wanting to get in the pool. (There is a photo of this moment in my mother's old albums, so I have questioned whether I recall the photo or the actual event, but in my memory I see the water, the steps down into the shallows, morning sunlight in my eyes.) The pool wasn't open yet and we were getting ready to leave, headed west to visit my aunt and uncle. My early childhood centered on these toys, these adventures and playful desires. (Major Matt Mason had a moonbase under the picnic table in our back yard, which sometimes doubled as the Batcave.)

That is all I have time for.  If you follow for a while, you'll see that many of our beginnings have no endings.

Meanwhile, JD says reconstructing memory is like writing fiction. Especially those early memories, which are not very reliable and where details are often filled in by imagination.

Next: Word prompts, fears, and when to stop.
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