Thursday, September 24, 2009

Children, Guilt, and Writing Centers

Do you give much thought to the things that influence your writing? The list of possible influences is long, but we'll look at just three today: children, guilt, and resources. The presence (or absence) of children can play an important role in writing; they can be inspiring and interrupting, sometimes all at the same time. Some writers feel guilty when they write about other people and may even avoid certain topics because they don't want to violate anyone's privacy. And while technically all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil to write, unanswered questions can stymie a writer. Writing centers for students are common--why not for adults?

Children and Writing

Have children—whether they are your own kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or students—affected and/or influenced your writing? Do you find children inspiring (or, conversely, uninspiring)? Do you think of future generations when you write? I thought about these questions when I read the article, “Writer finds children inspire fresh take on life and language” from the Grand Rapids Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

Liesel Litzenburger looks at the world in a whole new way these days, and she thanks her 2-year-old twins for the change.

"The process of having kids and being a mother radically changed my thinking on a lot of things," she said.

"I used to tell my students that cliches are cliches because they're so true they get worn out with use. So the cliche about a mother's love as absolute is absolutely true for me. My children are my center, my heart."

The Guilt of Observation

Do you ever feel guilty about writing about other people? Here’s an excerpt from “Writer’s Guilt” by Calen Crain at Atlantic Online:

The Depression-era writer who thought most—and felt guiltiest—about what it meant to make art out of suffering was probably James Agee. In “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” (1941), his book-length essay about three families of tenant farmers in Alabama, illustrated with photographs taken by the F.S.A.’s Walker Evans, Agee seems sickened by his freedom to write about the unhappiness of others. When, for example, in the course of his reporting, Agee inadvertently startles a young black couple by walking up behind them, he writes that “the least I could have done was to throw myself flat on my face and embrace and kiss their feet.” A sort of trespassing is involved in writing about other people, even when the writing is as gentle as one can manage, just as it’s a violation, however mild, to photograph a person, even though it’s in an artist’s nature to want to capture experience.

(The complete text of Crain’s article is on his blog, “Steamboats Are Ruining Everything,” along with several links to the digitized versions of pictures by Walker Evans, the photographer who accompanied Agree.)

Why not an adult writing center?

Since I get Google alerts on all sorts of writing topics, I recently came across an article about the opening of a new student writing center at a university—a place where students could get help not only with research papers, but also with resumes, letters, and other writing projects. What a terrific resource! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults who are out of school had a writing center, a place to get help with their writing projects? The simplest things can stall a writer’s progress. One of the most frequent dilemmas I encounter from writers in the senior age group, for instance, is how they can get a manuscript typed, particularly in a computer format. I’ve facilitated an adult writing group for eight years, and some of the questions I frequently get are: What’s the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing? How can I get a book published traditionally? How do I get an article published? If I’m not interested in publishing, what’s the heck do I do with all this stuff I’ve written? How do I deal with the negative emotions/memories I encounter when I write? How do I learn how to use a computer and/or word processor? Clearly, school-age students aren’t the only ones with questions about writing. What would an adult writing center look like to you? Do you think it would encourage people to keep writing, or to start writing?
Picture courtesy of Pablo Medina at

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