My guest, Marcia Coffey Turnquist is visiting with me today to talk about her writing. She is an author and journalist, is currently writing her second novel, Skipping the Light. Before venturing into the world of fiction, she spent 12 years as a news broadcaster, working her way back to her hometown of Portland, Oregon and KOIN-TV. Marcia decided to retire from broadcasting to raise the son and daughter who ultimately inspired The God of Sno Cone Blue. Her two children are all but grown now, the youngest just off to college and the other currently studying abroad. Marcia lives with her husband Ed in the soggy-but-green suburbs of Portland.
Marcia, why do you write?
Why do I write… why do I write… such a deceptively simple, but important question. First and foremost, because I love to write. I love the freedom and creativity, the chance to say what I want to say, and the inherent gift of an empty page. I love weaving words together, the rhythm of language, the way it pulls your mind forward, and the order of thought. And I especially love when magic happens, when you’re writing along, you know, just minding your own business and—whoosh!—something incredible happens, something wonderful and perfect and even divine comes into your head and you know it was meant to be. You just know it.
On the other hand, there are horrible-terrible, aggravating aspects to writing too: like the first draft you thought was beautiful until you realize it’s crap; like the hours spent outlining when you pulled out more hair than words; like the days when you try so hard to string thoughts together and barely make it to a full paragraph.
Still, there’s so much to love. Writing gives you a voice and the chance at a few ions of immortality. It leaves a history of your musings and mind travels. It means an opportunity to influence thought or stir emotion, spur people to action or to new understandings. Writers offer their readers escape, entertainment or just plain fun.
How has writing impacted your life?
My hope is by launching a second career! While I’m still working on that (with novel two underway) I can point to other ways writing has changed me. I’m probably smarter because of writing—I’m definitely smarter-mouthed! But seriously, the amount I’ve learned on several fronts in the past few years has been incredible: from self-publishing to marketing, from brainstorming to researching, from first draft to editing to absorbing feedback from my writers’ group. In spite of getting older—I’m now 54—my memory is better. I feel sharper than I did, say, a decade ago.
What advice would you give to beginner writers?
First, don’t give up. If you really desire to write, if you really love it and want to make something of it, be persistent, no matter how many rejections and disappointments, no matter how many hoops and obstacles, because it’s not easy, not in the least. Now, the biggest obstacle to writing may be income (or lack thereof), so that has to be a consideration. You may not earn money writing, especially at first. But if you can live with that (both literally and figuratively), then don’t let the other obstacles get in the way; don’t ever give up.
Second, be a wise listener. When you read, listen to the voice of the writer, and listen to your critics, whether they’re friends or professional editors. You’re bound to learn something. In other words, don’t be defensive, because we all have room for improvement. Hard as it is sometimes to take constructive criticism (I’m sometimes crushed for days) consider it a gift, not an insult. You’re not a hermit on an island—yay! You have friends (and professionals) willing to tell you what they think—yay! This doesn’t mean you have to agree with all of it, but give it thoughtful consideration. Chances are, you’ll find nuggets of truth that will do wonders for your work.
Third, write! And when you write, when you actually sit down and let your fingers fly, forget the editor in your head (or those pesky writer friends) and just write. Writing is like any skill: the more you do it, the better you get.
There’s an old story I like to tell that illustrates this point perfectly. I’ve known it so long I don’t remember where I first heard it, but here it goes: There was a research project involving a group of people and a bunch of clay. The researchers put half the people in one set and the other half in another.
To the first set of people they said: Each of you take some clay and a wheel and spin the best, most perfect clay pot you can spin. You have one month to reach your goal. At the end of that time, bring us your best, most perfect pot.
To the second group, they said: Here is a bunch of clay, each of you take a wheel and don’t worry about quality. Make as many pots as you can in one month. When the month is up, bring us your pots.
After one month, which group do you think made the best pots? Yes—the one that was told to make the most! There was no anxiety about making it their best, no sweating over perfection, only a chance to learn the skill.
So, the next time you’re writing, shaping those sentences like clay, and that pesky editor enters your head, throw the bum out! There’ll be time later on for your writer friends to crush you.