Tag Archives: Ditch diggers

Who’s Watching the Writer? by Paul J. Stam

I was in the studio throwing some bowls when a student pulled a stool over and said, “Do you mind if I watch you?”

People will watch anyone work except writers. I know, I’ve been writing for over 60 years and had my first novel published in 1978. No one, not even my wife, ever wanted to watch me type. Well, I did have a cat that used to watch me, but that was in the days of clanking typewriters and I think the cat was really watching the typebars and ribbon jumping.

Actors, musicians, standup comics, preachers, and some others charge a fee and so earn a living by having people watch them work. People will even watch ditch-diggers, carpenters, mechanics, painters and anyone doing any kind of work except writing. People are just not interested in watching someone sit and hit keys, unless of course they are piano keys.

Whatever your work, in order to do one’s best, to do something significant, one needs inspiration. In the arts that inspiration often comes not only from within yourself, but also from instructors and from working next to others; both those who are at about the same level as you, and from seeing the masters at work and working right alongside them.

When that student asked if he could watch me, I knew exactly what he was thinking. In my pottery work I have learned more from watching someone do something than from all the lectures and one-time demonstrations by the instructors. You see someone’s finished work and wonder, “How did they do that?” Next time they are at work you sit down and watch them and learn.

In writing the watching and learning comes in associating with other writers. You associate with the masters by reading their work and you are inspired not only by what they said, but the way they said it. There are millions of people who have inspirational things to say, but don’t know how to say them. It is in the knowing how to say it that people will read your work and tell others about it.

In writing the inspiration from working with others often comes from a writer’s group. The help comes from other writer’s reading and honestly commenting on your work. Notice I said, “honestly commenting” not just saying things to make you feel good.

I belong to such a group. It is a working group, not a social group. We meet once a week. Participation in the group is limited to seven members. The reason for the limit is because the way the meeting is structured more than that number and the meetings just go on too long.

We each bring a printed copy of a portion of something we are working on for each person in the group. We limit the submission to 1000 words. We each read the submission silently to ourselves, which is the way most reading is done, and then each person comments. We criticize, suggest, encourage and do what we can to help each other become better writers.

The discussion for each submission is limited to three minutes per critique. With seven people if each of them say something that is 21 minutes right there. So, with about five minutes to read each person’s submission, and then with the discussion, and with interruptions to get a drinks or snacks, the meetings easily run more than three hours.

Occasionally someone brings in a portion of a short story, but we are all working on novels.  Consequently, over a period of time we all get an idea of where the story has been and where it is going because the submissions are usually brought in sequentially. That is not one of the group’s requirement but if you are working on something you just naturally bring in what you have been working on that week.

Sometimes you bring in a passage that has been giving you trouble, and you want help. Another time you may bring in something with which you are real pleased and you want to be sure, from a reader’s perspective, you have a right to be pleased with it.

Sometimes a member will bring in a rewrite of something from before to get input on that.

So, who’s watching the writer? If you are lucky a support group of fellow writers is watching you and hopefully, eventually, the reading public.

Paul’s murder mystery The Telephone Killer, published by Second Wind Publishing will be out next month.

Visit Paul at Paul’s Books.


Filed under books, fiction, writing