If You Give a Writer a Pen

If you give a writer a pen, he’ll want to write a story. Once he writes that story, he will trash the paper and fume about how terrible it is. If you allow him to criticize his work, he will begin to critique it. Once he begins to critique it, he’ll write up another draft. If you let a writer finish a story, he’ll want to publish it. Then he’ll move into your guest bedroom and never leave.

In November, I wrote my first story for the Verge about Nanowrimo. I interviewed over twenty local writers about what drove them to write novels. Writers are a morphing bunch of people. Some write epic fantasies, obsessed with trolls and wizards. Others plotted high-end thrillers involving politicians and nuclear war. Some wrote of the nuances of private family lives. Yet every writer is driven by a need to tell a story.

We approach dialogue differently, think of characters differently, and certainly tell eclectic stories. Writers, though, are bound by the necessity to tell stories. That fiery X-factor that impels us to write down what we’re thinking. We need to leave our marks on the world in forms of poems or stories.

When I begin to write a story, I do not immediately leap to what “theme” I might want to pursue. Instead, I concentrate on a single character and place him in a strange situation. I want the reader to be able to sympathize with the character by the end, to feel the journey the character takes. The character’s story takes center stage. What we can glean from the story and how it affects society, yes, is important. But there are many essential components to a good story. One of them is a story.

I began thinking about this for two reasons. Firstly, I strive to understand the stories of those I surround myself with. Intentionally, I will strike up conversations with strangers. Whether they be doctors, bums, or Cuban restaurant owners. If I talk to them about their days or about their months or about their lives, I can have a story. There will be an opportunity for me to sympathize. The only thing that sets writers apart is that we sometimes fictionalize stories in search of a greater truth. That, however, is a discussion for another

day. Deep down, we all have these stories to tell. Real or fictional.

Writers have been scribbling through my mind also because tonight I will be mingling with many of them. I am being published in the 2012 issue of the Inkling, published by the Verge editors. Tonight (in fact, in two hours) is a release party for the magazine at which all the writers will congregate. Tomorrow is the Verge’s New Year’s meeting/party at which I shall meet my fellow staff writers and editors. Two nights will be spent dancing in social circles and discussing literature. What is most frightening is that I am still unsure what I am publishing in Inkling, poem or story. I submitted five entries, so I shall find out tonight what made it in.

Come Friday, I will update everyone about what occurred at each of these literary gatherings. I relish the opportunity to speak to fellow writers, to discover and read their work, and to find that within them is a familiar fire hungry for stories.


About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on January 4, 2012, in career, Cool Posts, Poetry, Word Salad, writer, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hey, congratulations! How exciting all this must be. Looking forward to hearing all about the literary gatherings… 🙂

  2. I admire writers of fiction. I just can’t write in that genre. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about your experiences in those gatherings.

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