This afternoon, while sitting in Caribou Coffee (my new "Uncle Jon's" for my southeastern Massachusetts readers), a woman sitting next to me noticed the stack of papers loosely balanced on my gradebook, which was loosely balanced on my lap; and me, pencil in hand and glasses perched on nose, reading.
"Are you a teacher?" she asked.
"What gave it away?" I said with a smile.
"What do you teach?"
I told her.
She then said, "I'm trying to be a writer."
I find this an odd statement. How does one "try" to be a writer? Instead of asking the question, I instead asked her about what she wrote, etc.
"I'm working on a screenplay," she said.
I went back to reading annotated bibliographies when she asked, "So do you have any tips for writing?"
I looked up and smiled again.
"That depends on what you're writing." I asked her to describe the genre of the screenplay, and she did.
Finally, I said, "Write the first draft for yourself. Write the screenplay of the movie you would want to see. Then, when you revise, think about the reader (or viewer) who is less familiar w/ this genre, and envision that person seeing your movie. How do you hook that person?"
She thought about it and nodded in agreement. She liked this advice.
We talked a little bit more, and it turned out she had attended one of my good friend Jesse's panel events on getting an agent and getting published. (I was subconsciously channeling Jesse when mentioning the value of a good cover letter, and the Guide to Literary Agents.) Later in the day, while meeting Jesse for our own writers group session, I enjoyed telling him about the conversation w/ this aspiring writer, and that his events are making an impression on aspiring writers. I even told him about the "tip" I gave her, and he looked at me w/ sincerity.
"That's a very thoughtful tip, and a good one at that," he said. I always appreciate Jesse's sincerity.
Writing is mostly a solitary act, so I suppose that's why writers like to talk to other writers about their craft. I never even got this woman's name; but the few minutes exchanged in talking about what we've written, what we care about as writers, made my day.
Better still, after I'd finished the student papers, I finally broke through my writers block -- WOO-HOO! -- and got several pages of longhand done for the new novel, as well as a cramp from my hand to my wrist and up my arm (it's been awhile since I did that much longhand in that short span of time, and if I'm inspired, I need to write quickly to keep up w/ my brain -- it's worth it, though). Maybe because I took my own advice and stopped trying so hard. I wrote a few pages of a scene I would want to read. It's a beautiful thing.