You know those free entertainment newspapers that almost every hip town or city has? You can pick them up weekly, and get the lowdown on your town, but in a more entertaining way than reading your local newspaper? In Anchorage, it’s called The Press and I’ve always wanted to write for it; that’s silly actually because I keep sending them stuff and they keep ignoring me, but what every writer tells me is to never give up so I’m going to keep trying. In any case, one of my favorite weekly activities, sometimes over coffee in the morning, and sometimes over a beer in the evening, is to read The Press. It has the local political drama, music features, beer reviews, etc, but it also has articles on nearby recreational opportunities and important local issues as well as a calendar that features community events.
The other day, I was flipping through it, doing just that, and there it was: “Writing Your Place Author Panel”. Being that I’ve been somewhat stuck with my writing lately, it just shouted out to me. Without even reading the details, I thought to myself that I should go because while I write about a lot of topics, I would say that place is a common motif. Maybe this panel would bring me some light. Besides, just listening to other writers is helpful. I then looked at who was attending: Eowyn Ivey, Sherry Simpson, Seth Kantner, and Don Reardon. Wait, does that say that Seth Kantner is going to be in Anchorage?! Speaking!? I quickly skimmed to the bottom to find that it was taking place at 1 p.m. the next day. I was grinning from ear to ear.
Now, for those of you that don’t know Seth Kantner’s work, either his writing or his photography, you must check out his stuff. I’m a huge fan of Seth Kantner, but what’s strange about that is that I’ve only read one of his two books, Ordinary Wolves, but it happens to be one of my favorites, especially on Alaska. He also has articles that fly around from time to time on important environmental issues, Alaska issues, human rights, animal rights, etc. He is always surprising people with his perspective as he takes in all of the sides. I also dig landscape photography, which he plays with as well.
The panel was excellent, but I’m just going to give some of Seth’s comments here, in summary, to give you an author’s perspective of the craft, in the hopes that it might help you feel uplifted about your struggles with writing.
Does it ever end? I’m always getting the next round of revisions back, and it just goes and goes. I don’t ever really feel like it’s over.
On Writing what is Real
I was tired of reading crap about Alaska. As someone who was raised here, I felt like there was a responsibility for me to take on, if/when I was going to write about it, the real thing. When it comes to place, you should try to be real.
On Narrative Structure
I’m not really someone who knows a lot about writing or literature, unlike the rest of my panelists (with a smile). I’m learning about narrative vocabulary such as theme, plot, character development. I wish I knew how to write a plot, but the characters simply make my plots. They are driving me.
I’ll sit for hours trying to come up with the right word for that particular moment or sentence. Words like ‘creamy’. That was the right word for the passage that I just shared from Sherry’s work. Sometimes, that is all that I do-look up words, searching for new ways to create the picture. I want it to be simple with just the right words and descriptions so that everyone can understand it.
….simple thoughts from Seth. After listening to all of the authors speak, I realized that for the most part, they talked about the strenuous labor and immense stress of their craft. While laughing and holding their heads, they all seemed to have that common understanding that we all have. That writing is so hard. Still.
They also had to choose one section from each others’ works to read aloud, and then explain what they liked about it. That was cool because they were writers, wearing a reader’s hat, but through a writer’s lens. Word choice seemed to be a central key to writing about place because you must paint the picture using all of the senses, but you don’t want it to be too cliché’.
At one point, Eowyn was talking about how she sometimes feels that her writing gets in the way of just being because when she is experiencing something, she is forced to take in all of the senses, the angles of where she is, the interactions between the people, the play between the weather and animals so that she can try to write about it later. She wants to get those details so that she can find the right words later. She isn’t just there to enjoy and although she didn’t use the word, I could tell that she felt like her craft was relentless in the way that it steals from her just living in the moment.
For Seth, I felt the opposite. I’m not sure he is as obsessed because he is too buried in his lifestyle to allow writing to take away from it. I felt like his comments represented someone who can write, but isn’t necessarily a writer, buried by the calling. He doesn’t see himself as an author, but yet he is published. He writes to protect what he believes in, to teach others about what is important about Mother Earth, but he seems to be able to turn it on and off whereas many authors can’t do that. Although I didn’t ask him this when we met, I was thinking that he might use his photography as a way to supplement his writing, to give himself breaks from the stress that comes with writing.
Our communities have so many resources and tools that exist to provide us with learning and networking opportunities. Even if we aren’t in the mood to learn, it’s good to take breaks to experience someone else reading or someone else talking about writing. Just listening. Go to readings. Go to debates. Go to those public experiences that require people to examine words, their power, and how we can deal with it.
Next time you get stuck, walk way, and tap into what your neighborhood has to offer.
When fresh air doesn’t work, learning from the source just might.