Monday, March 01, 2010

Inspiration from Elizabeth Berg

The March/April issue of Writers Digest Magazine features an inspiring interview with author Elizabeth Berg by Jessica Strawser. In Q&A format she tackles some subjects that hit home for me at this stage of my writing. Perhaps they'll encourage you too. Here are a few of the questions. Pick up a copy of the magazine to read the complete interview, including her take on life after Oprah picking her book up as a selection and how it impacted her career.

Are you often surprised by where stories take you?

I am, and that's part of the mystery and the joy. I never want to know. To me, it would be like doing homework---it would be so boring---if I knew what was going to happen. So, I'm kind of like the reader every day. I go into my study, and I don't know what's going to happen. It's exciting, you know?

I love her enthusiasm here, and her emphasis on the joys of writing. So much is placed on the negative, and here she doesn't emphasize that.

A lot of your characters seem in some way empowering---do you ever set out to empower your readers?

In the most self-protective of ways, I don't think about the reader when I'm writing. I just think about the story. After it's done, I think a lot about the reader. But in the end, always, you need to write what's in your heart and soul, and let the chips fall where they may. Let's say you try to accommodate this imaginary reader, and you produce a work you're not particularly happy with. That will always stay with you, that you didn't write what was true for you. Whereas, if you do write what's true for you, and someone doesn't like it, well, you know, that stings for a minute, but it goes away.

Bravo, Elizabeth, for sharing these words! I totally agree---we must write first for ourselves, and let the chips fall. God puts particular stories in our hearts for a reason, and I need to be reminded of this every day.

So many successful writers talk about writing as agony.

Sometimes I think people say that to keep the competition down! We are in such need of fresh voices, and I worry sometimes that emerging writers pay a little too much attention to what other people say. If I could say anything to aspiring writers, it's to keep your own counsel, first and foremost. There's nothing wrong with listening to what other people have to say---I used to be one of your readers who would gaze longingly at those pictures of people who are published and think, Oh man, what must it be like? But there is something inside of a person that makes them be a writer in the first place. That's a strong and true thing. And you can have your head turned very easily by the business of writing. It's so important to keep it church and state---keep it separate. The process of writing and creating and answering that very unique call inside yourself has nothing to do with agents and sales and all that. And I can tell you as someone who's enjoyed a lot of success in my career that nothing matches the feeling you have when you get it right on the page, when you please yourself in that very intimate way---that's always the best thing, no matter what happens. For me it is, anyway.

This is advice I needed to hear. And it's so true! On this side of the journey, with my debut novel on shelves (and I have so far to go, I know), this advice rings true. We would be wise to heed it. Thank you, Ms. Berg, for sharing.


Heidi Willis said...

A wonderful interview! I've loved Elizabeth Berg's books for a long time, and when it felt like my own writing would never be published, I found such inspiration in her stories and her success.

Even now, struggling through writing my second novel and wondering too much about the saleability of it, these words are so valuable!!

Thank you both for doing this.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

I loved this interview. I'm a huge Berg fan. It was fun to read your reaction to the interview. The last sentence of the interview had me laughing out loud even though some might deem it inappropriate.

To the agony point...intense, yes, exhausting, yes, but I don't agonize when I write--I come alive.

Congratulations on your debut novel.
~ Wendy

Koala Bear Writer said...

That is a great interview! I'll have to get back to the library to borrow the magazine again. I pulled it out a few days ago but didn't get much read before I had to take it back. My hubby was interested in the tax and business articles in it. :)

Rachel Hauck said...

Definitely great words, but I disagree on the business end. If you don't consider the business end, which is overwhelming, you will only be writing for yourself.

The business part is a huge part of the writer's life, but you cannot let it overwhelm. I love what she said about "there's a reason you write."

I think you have to keep true to yourself and your voice AND the business side will work with you.