Monday, December 8, 2014

On Being a Writer

I’ve been reading On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts by Charity Craig and Ann Kroeker. I like this book for its simplicity and straightforwardness. I like the wisdom Ann and Charity bring to the subject of writing – wisdom born of experience. And I like how each chapter is organized: Stories about writing, and exploration (live, respond, writing prompt, a bonus activity, and discussion questions). And you can ask yourself the discussion questions, or you can ask them in a group.

Here’s one of the discussion questions from chapter 1, “Identify:”

When did you first call yourself a writer?

I thought I knew. Turns out I didn’t.

It might have been when I was 10, when my father brought home from his printing business a bound volume of blank pages. It had a pale green paper cover. Today we would call it a journal. I even know what I wrote in it – a mystery story for kids, about kids, involving secret passages and tunnels (and likely borrowed wholesale from The Hardy Boys).

But then I realized something. What prompted my father to make that book? It didn’t just materialize in his head as an idea. Something told him this would be something I would enjoy. So, clearly, there was some pre-existing event or condition before that bound volume was placed in my hands.

It was likely linked to my family reputation as “the reader.” I was an early reader. When I was six, I pedaled my bike to the local dime store and bought Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion for 59 cents. That was the first book I bought on my own.

Sometime between the ages of six and ten, something happened that suggested to my parents that I might be writer.

However, my father wanted me to be a doctor. That had been his dream, which he was forced to abandon when he graduated from high school in 1933, the pit of the Great Depression. College had been out. Instead, he went to work as a roughneck in the East Texas oil fields.

Charity Craig
I tried pre-med for one year at college. Too much chemistry for someone who was more interested in English literature. I even considered (for a very short time) the ministry. And it was my father who advised against a business degree and instead still do something that would help me earn a living – journalism. (My father had worked for a time in the circulation department of the Shreveport Journal, and after serving in World War II for a trade publisher in New Orleans, which is where he met my mother.)

Was there a moment when I first thought of myself as a writer? Probably, but it’s buried in the mists and fog.

Ann Kroeker
But I can pinpoint the moment when I first said (or admitted) I was a poet. We were visiting New Orleans in 2010, and I was paying for several poetry books I was purchasing at the Faulkner House Bookstore in Pirate’s Alley. The owner looked over the books, and looked at me and said, “Are you a poet?” I funbled with an answer, something like “I write it a bit.” So he repeated his question. “Are you a poet?”

And I said yes.

So if you’d like to know what On Being a Writer can do, just look over what I just wrote. I moved from a description of the book to a question to the search for an answer that took me back to the 1930s and 1940s – before I was born – and then forward. Ann and Charity’s book is simple, but deceptively so. It will make you think, and think hard.

Yes, I am a poet. And yes, I am a writer.

Photograph: Faulkner House Bookstore in New Orleans. The man on the left was the one who asked me, "Are you a poet?"


Ann Kroeker said...

Glynn, you model the experience of the book so well in this post! I'm so glad you dug deep with your personal reflection on your writing origins. And then that moment when you declare you're a poet? Hooray for that man, for pressing in a second time with the question...and hooray for you, for acknowledging publicly you are a poet, for you most certainly are.

Thank you for sharing about the book, but most valuable to me is sharing about your life. This is why Charity and I wrote the book--to interact with writers about their writing life. This brings me joy on a Monday morning, and I'll be thinking about my friend Glynn, the poet, all day long!

Charity Singleton Craig said...

Glynn - I love this post and the digging you have done to go back and back and back to those moments (not just one moment, as you say) when you found yourself a writer. I think this one question can open up a lot of history and hoping for writers. Going back can help clarify and confirm. I love that the owner of the bookstore was onto you as you were hedging. I loved that he asked again. Had he left it with just the first asking, you may still be hedging.

God bless your dad for getting to know YOU and advising you in ways that made sense for you heading out into your future.

Thanks for sharing these stories, Glynn. Yes, this is exactly why we wrote this book. And the crazy thing is, I keep doing these same things in my own writing life over and over. These 12 chapters represent the wholeness of my writing life repeated again and again.

Sam Van Eman said...

I'm glad you're a poet and writer, Glynn, and I'm glad for what Kroeker and Craig are doing, and will do, for their writing readers.

SimplyDarlene said...

Ahhhh. Every bit of this is whiz-bang wonderful!

Zac Garripoli said...

Hmm. And professional writers cannot even agree on what constitutes a poem. Ambivalence is to be expected.

Dolly @Soulstops said...

Enjoyed reading about your journey and the role your father played.