Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Volmer: License to Write: Part I

Click here to see more about Mary Volmer.

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Mary Volmer, basketball player turned historical novelist and teacher at Saint Mary’s College (CA). Author of Crown of Dust and Reliance, Illinois.

                  If you write, you are a writer. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve published, or just have begun to put stories together. Maybe you desperately want to write, but don’t yet have a story. Maybe you have a story to tell, but don’t yet know how. Maybe you have a story, but can’t imagine anyone else would care about it. In the next three blog posts, I hope to give you license to overcome these doubts and tools to cultivate the faith you’ll need to persevere and survive the process of writing a book.

Answer the question: Why Write?
This is a question only you can answer for yourself, a question you must answer.

I can tell you why I started: I write because I love to read. Because I love adventure, but detest risk. I write because stories allow me to inhabit lives beyond my own and connect me to people past and present. Stories make me vulnerable and grateful for my own humanity. I write because I love language, because characters announce themselves to me, because I’m good at it. I write when I’m angry, when I’m sad, when I’m baffled.

Why do you write? Why are you writing this book?

I was compelled to write my first novel, Crown of Dust, because as an athlete, who grew up playing with and against boys, I knew—that is I could imagine—what it must have been like to be a woman alone in gold fields full of men.

I was compelled to write Reliance, Illinois because of my gratitude, not just for 19th-century reformers in the novel, but for 20th and 21st-century women who fought (who are still fighting) for rights I grew up taking for granted. The right to vote, for example. The right study, to play, to define myself by my abilities and merits, and not by gender alone.

What is compelling you? Take a few hours or days to answer this question. If you’re well into a first or second draft, it’s not too late. Why are you writing this book? Compose a declaration of purpose, tape it above your desk, look at it when the work is hard, when you’re stuck, when you are dejected. A teacher of mine suggested writing this declaration in the form of a letter. ... Dear Mary, I am writing this story because…

This writing thing can feel illicit, am I right? Your story like an illegitimate child conceived out of public eye.

Claim that child. If you haven’t yet done so in public, here is your chance to admit “I am a writer.” Own the title. The positive effect on your work might surprise you. It will certainly embolden you. The indifferent world—I do mean your husband, wife, mother, son, daughter, friends—might assume you are engaged in a questionable pursuit. But you will have answered the question, why do I write, and you will know better.

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