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.
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.
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
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.”
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,
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
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.
Christmas, my daughter, Caroline, gave me The Complete Idiot’s
Guide to Getting Published, and I recommend it for its concise
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Sort of like a writer. Funny, isn’t it?
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.