As of today, I’ve been the writer-in-residence for about five months. I’m a little less than halfway through the residency, and I’ve done four interviews for the Inside the Writer’s Head podcast. This is one of my very favorite parts of being the library’s WIR.
For one thing, I get to go use the library’s Makerspace recording booth on the second floor of the Main Library. If you haven’t seen it, go check it out. Is it very cool. It’s also guaranteed to make you feel like Terry Gross just by stepping inside. The booth is little and all dark carpet, and there are many cords and a big computer screen with levels on it—and you get to say “levels.” You put on these giant headphones, like you’re ready usher in a 747 from the runway, and then you sit really close to the microphone. Your guest does too, and then you get to read in your professional radio voice the sweet little intro and piercing, insightful questions you’ve written.
It’s so much fun.
And four writer-subjects later, I was turning over what I’d learned. It seems a shame to get these talented people in a carpeted booth and not ponder what they’ve taught us. So far, I’ve interviewed a science writer, a picture book writer, an editor and the awesome Gene Luen Yang, a comic book artist and writer. They’re all from different areas of the writing spectrum. And yet they all had two distinct similarities. I thought about it in the shower this morning, and I’ve got it:
- They all work hard.
- They’re all willing to learn.
When I asked my subjects for their “how I got here” story, these two qualities are what stood out. Gene Yang told aspiring comic book artists to give up “all of your television and most of your friends.” Linda Leopold Strauss described teaching herself to write picture books over a period of years, failing over and over. Each of these writers works on their writing most days, for many hours. They keep their rear in the chair.
And interestingly, each writer talked about how they had learned their craft even as they were working as writers. Gene Yang talked about writing comics on his time off, going to shows, learning the trade. Mary Kay Carson talked about branching off into picture books after many years as a non-fiction writer. Teri Robida taught herself editing after working in marketing. Each of them took writing seriously, and worked at learning.
It’s a takeaway, I think, that bears repeating.
As a writer: 1) work hard 2) be willing to learn.