Your day job can make you a better writer. Elizabeth Berg’s experience as a nurse required her to give patients “unconditional positive regard” and notice everything from a twitching knee to their facial expression. Since she worked in critical care, she learned that what matters in life isn’t the big things, but the little details. It’s the yellow coffee cup you drink your morning coffee from or the dog curled up at the end of your bed that matter to people. This is also what creates a beautiful scene and a memorable story.
Berg offered insights into her own writing process, but emphasized that we should honor what works for us. She doesn’t plot her story out ahead of time because she likes to be surprised. “I don’t want to know where it's going. I want to dream it into being.” Preferring to work in the morning, she writes one day without censoring herself. The next day she goes back and edits it. She encourages writers to “Go shopping for ideas inside yourself” rather than trying to imitate others.
“The best thing to do to be a good writer is to be a good reader,” Berg said. She likes to read Alice Munro, E.B. White, the graphic artist Lynda Barry as well as non-fiction. Reading a variety of genres is good for writers. Her advice for writer’s groups is “Be honest but kind.”
When asked how she juggles several book ideas, she said she can’t work on two novels at the same time. “It’s like you’re married to it.” So, she suggested treating your story ideas like you would children: tell them you love them and you’ll get to them later, but right now Mom has to do this. People who are bombarded by several ideas should write each of them down and put them in a drawer.
Berg concluded with a few positive words about publishing. Despite the changing industry, she said, “Editors are still looking for good writers. They need you as much as you need them.” Write the story you want to write first, she advised, and worry about marketing later. “All of you are engaged in a noble business. . . . Good luck! I hope you love what you’re doing.”
If you enjoy reading happy endings with a twist, try A SISTER’S PROMISE, WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS LIKE or ON THE VERGE. Look for A WEEKEND GETAWAY by Karen Lenfestey, coming soon to Amazon.
Thanks to my friend and fellow author, Cathy Shouse, for the picture in this blog.