I’m just coming down off the high of meeting a few local authors during the annual Red Line Book Festival hosted by the South Dublin Libraries. Last week was filled with readings, lectures and workshops, and while I was only able to attend three of them, the benefit far outweighed the personal cost of venturing out in the wind and rain to obscure libraries with a slight chance of losing my way in the dark and never making it home. (This is an actual fear of mine; hidden street signs and Google Maps have been known to lead me astray.)
Apart from the fear of getting lost, I’ve found there are three things that usually keep me from attending things with the words writing, book or author somewhere in the title.
1) Not knowing the work
Confession: I have not actually read anything by the authors whose readings I attended this week. In fact, I had only a vague familiarity with one. I was afraid my ignorance to the work and the subject matter would out me as an illiterate Yankee.
Obviously, I had nothing to fear. These were women with stories to tell. Christine Dwyer Hickey read from two books, and with dry humour, shared tidbits of her writing life with us. She was witty and wise and amiable. Most of the crowd gathered had read her most recent novel in the local book club, but she was just as keen to fill the rest of us in on her style, processes and ideas.
2) Being the amateur
Earlier this year a friend of mine invited me to an open-mic night at the Irish Writers' Centre. I had no idea what to expect, though I was fairly sure I was unqualified just to attend. It’s not like James Joyce was going to rise from the grave with a soliloquy from Ulysses. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most readers were nervous, the audience encouraging and the evening quite enjoyable. If I was an amateur, so was everyone else. Until they weren’t.
This same friend invited me to hear Jennifer Burke talk about what she’s learned since publishing two novels in two years. Jennifer shared how she formed a writing life, pursuing a discipline of daily writing outside of her 9 to 5 job as a solicitor. As an “amateur” she attended this same festival in 2012 just to be near writers and glean from their expertise, never imagining she’d be on the other side of the podium (or coffee table, in this instance) in two years time.
Jennifer started acting like a writer and taking herself seriously as a writer before she ever really felt like a writer. With the discipline of daily writing came the work, the eventual winning of a national book contest, and a three-book deal. We came to glean from her expertise and found her modest, winsome and clever.
3) Having my spirit crushed
Matt and I joke about our wedding day, how he went in for the final kiss before the pastor ever said “you may now kiss the bride.” For months afterward I called him a dream killer. “Every girl has the dream of hearing those words spoken to her,” I said. This was true, but I got over it fairly quickly.
Likewise, I’m a little bit in fear of the writing dream killer. I regularly crush my own spirit; I don’t need someone else to do it for me.
Nevertheless, I found myself in a short fiction workshop run by Shauna Gilligan alongside several of my writing group friends and a handful of new faces. She brought in short stories for us to read, focusing on things like dialogue, verbs, character development (my group read The Trespasser by Bonnie Jo Campbell, and it was a doozy). Then she divvied us up into pairs, provided a table full of prompts, and encouraged us to brainstorm, imagine characters and scenes, think of the smells, the tastes, and come up with just one line. The first line.
Then we read.
I don’t know what I think “real” writers are like. I think I imagine them in a dark corner under a silver desk lamp, perched at a table filled with papers and books and three-day-old coffee. They drum their fingers together under a wicked smile and a sinister laugh, thinking, “I made it – hahaha - by God, I made it!”
In reality, they’re just like us. They’re writers. And they want to encourage the writer, the creative, in everyone. If we have the desire to write, they want us to do it and they willingly share all the tricks up their sleeves. Then, they listen. We read our first sentences and they ask us for more, tell us to keep going, encourage us in a particular direction.
Don’t let fears keep you from the desire to grow in your craft, whatever it may be. Seek out experts, ask for advice, sign up for a class or a join a local group. And if you’ve any interest in books, short stories or the creative process, mark your calendar for next year’s festival (or find one near you). Maybe I’ll meet you there.
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