Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Stories Are Everywhere

This week, I’ve been traveling and listening to people tell me their stories.  Listening is one of those great skills for a writer and editor.  In general, we live in isolation—working on our offices and at our computers.  Over the last few days at these conferences, I’ve heard numerous stories. Some of them are fascinating. What do you do with the story? Does it become a magazine article or a book? Is it something you write or never write? As writers, we face these basic questions combined with making sure we tell the right story to the right audience.

For example, I told the story that I used about Pamela Anderson in yesterday’s entry in yesterday’s class.  The same story got a huge laugh with my editor friends and at the panel I moderated in NYC—but it fell completely flat during my workshop. Hardly anyone laughed. It depends on the audience.

As a part of the conference, I’m critiquing several manuscripts for individual writers. I’ll be meeting face to face with these individuals during the conference. I want to be honest yet diplomatic and encouraging. It’s a tricky balance. Some of these writers have invested huge amounts of time and energy into their project and they are taking a huge risk.  For the first time, they are showing their work to someone else. I try to receive this information as a gift and applaud their courage. Yet what will happen with this material? Will it be crafted into a query letter to snag a magazine assignment? Will it eventually be reshaped into a terrific book proposal which will eventually become a nonfiction book? Will it be completed as a page-turning novel? Or in some cases, it will return to the file cabinet and not see the light of day again.

I’ve got files and drawers of material which I’ve written and never had printed.  Some of these pages have been in the hands of editors and soundly rejected over and over. I put them away and pressed on to write something else. Other projects have never been shown to the editors. It simply wasn’t the right time and maybe it will never appear in print.

I’m off to encourage some writers today and listen to their stories. They are everywhere.

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