Western North Carolina Woman

funny, isn't it?
by jeanne charters

So you wanna be a writer? Think hard, dear reader, before you commit yourself to an effort which may, most probably, render your soul and self confidence into a million little pieces (poor James Frey) before you know what hit you. However, if you really are a writer, you will, in time, have no choice in the matter; so here’s my “for what it’s worth” on the subject.

I have always written…poetry as a kid, TV and radio commercials for a living, these columns for self expression and now, my first novel. Several years ago, I submitted several fictional chapters to the New York Writers’ Institute for acceptance in a free writing class being taught by the Poet Laureate of Ireland. Hundreds of people submitted, and only 10 were admitted. I was thrilled to be one of those 10. The class was populated by seven men and three women. One of the women was someone I knew previously at a television station and remembered, as someone not to be trusted. The other woman was gay, talented and deeply scarred by childhood sexual abuse. She was my only friend in the group. The seven men were, without exception, combat veterans from Viet Nam and the Catholic Church. Their writing was good, but laced with bitterness so toxic I felt it might singe my flesh.

After 12 weeks of that class, I decided to stop writing. My skin just was not thick enough to survive the criticism. It wasn’t worth the pain.

When I moved to Asheville nearly five years ago, I noticed a clip in the newspaper about a “Write from the Heart” class taught by Peggy Millin. It was for women, and the time period fit neatly into my schedule. “What the hell,” I thought. “I’ll give it another shot.”

This class was the quintessential opposite of what I had experienced before. It was freeing and emotional and heartfelt, and it opened up my ability to write again while restoring my confidence in the process. Thank you, Peggy.

Soon, I was taking other classes with the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA. I met other writers and started buying the books that they read. I now own and recommend the following texts. In time, I may even read them.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White; Turning Life into Fiction by Robin Hemley; and, of course, The Writer’s Market.

This Christmas, my daughter, Caroline, gave me The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, and I recommend it for its concise readability.

I have joined two excellent writers’ groups and am learning so much from reading and critiquing other writers and listening carefully as they comment on my work. Sometimes, their words sting a little; but my skin is thickening nicely because I now realize that their criticisms are constructive and are only intended to help me to improve my craft.

In January, I stated that my first novel would be finished in March, 2006. I’ve now extended that deadline because of a monster called re-writing. Anyone who thinks that a first-draft novel is in any way complete is kidding herself; take it from one who knows.

Joan Medlicott, the author of the wonderful Ladies of Covington series told me once to “just start writing” a novel. She was right. You have to start. My teacher, the Poet Laureate, said, “Write what you don’t know about what you do know.” Talk about freedom!! That bit of advice gives one largesse to create universes that never existed, using familiar people and places to populate those worlds. It’s called fiction.

I decided to take a break from my rewrites to write this column for you. It’s not my typical tome because it’s not funny, nor ironic and is written without one whit of sarcasm. I hope you find it helpful in your quest if you decide to become an author.
However, to inspire you to “just start writing”, I’ll finish with one of the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton contest, for which one writes the first line of a bad novel.

Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fear’; a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit in the eye of death - in short, a moron with suicidal tendencies.
Sort of like a writer. Funny, isn’t it?

Jeanne Charters is a former V.P. of Marketing for Viacom Television. She started her own award-winning broadcast advertising agency in 1990. Jeanne lives in Fairview with her husband, Matt Restivo.
[ charmkt@juno.com; 828-628-0023 ]

Western North Carolina Woman
is a publication of INFINITE CIRCLES, INC.

PO BOX 1332 • MARS HILL NC 28754 • 828-689-2988

Celebrating the Spirit of Place in Western North Carolina