Telling Your Story All the Way Through

Friday, December 2, 2011

“Two or three things I know for sure and one of them is that telling the story all the way through is an act of love.” Dorothy Allison in Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

As a writer, sometimes inspiration can be hard to come by. I don’t mean the kind of inspiration that fuels stories, but the kind of inspiration that makes us want to be better writers, the kind that tells us deep in our souls that we can be better writers.

The week before Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Lee Smith. Her speech, which was both eloquent and down to earth, left no doubt in my mind what a strong voice she is for women and for Southerners. Afterward, I had the extreme pleasure of being introduced to her by my writing mentor, another strong woman whom I view as having capable hands and a compassionate heart when it comes to guiding writers.

During that conversation, Ms. Smith told me how her son, who is the same age that I am, was graduating with an MFA in writing the following day, saying to me that it wasn’t too late to start. After listening to the rhythmic power of her prose on stage and her kind words in person, I left that meeting feeling inspired. 

This Wednesday, I had the rare opportunity to take a writing workshop with Dorothy Allison. I don’t know what I expected, but whatever it was, that idea hit the road running as soon as she spoke. (And although I took Sofia to a workshop with Karen Salyer McElmurray last year, Allison’s workshop was not PG-rated.)

Allison’s over-arching message was that we are living in the Golden Age of Literature. As writers, very few will make enough money to survive financially, but that in itself may be the greatest gift of all, the gift that will allow us to access what she called “the gold,” the currency that each of us as writers possess. According to her, the lack of financial incentive for writers means freedom to write what you want, to make a difference, to tell the hard stories.

During the workshop, she gave us a list of her rules for being great writers, the first of which was to Read Out loud. She went on to say that you have to read your work for someone who scares you, someone you respect, someone you know will give you honest feedback. And so, being a woman of her word, she assigned us five-minute writing prompts and then made each of us read out loud. Scary indeed. But oh so powerful.

In her feedback, she made it clear that each of us has something important to offer as writers, and that we shouldn’t fight who we are to write what we think others will want to read or to write what is safe. I left that meeting feeling empowered.

As writers, this kind of confidence the kind that comes from inspiration and empowerment can be hard to find within our selves. Sometimes, we need a little nudge, or in Dorothy Allison’s case, a big thwak, to show us the way. So, I encourage you, especially you mothers and daughters, to find inspiration and empowerment, to find mentors despite the fear we all face that will enable you to tell your stories all the way through.

Tell me about your mentors in the comments below. (And my apologies to both Ms. Smith and Ms. Allison for the quality of the pictures.)