The Writer Asks

Words and Photos By Rebecca T. Dickinson

I did not believe I had much of a story from my childhood and youth. Sure my mom said there were family stories I could write. She didn’t understand those stories, to me, were inside jokes. An aunt told me I needed to experience life and one day I’d be an author … maybe, when I hit forty. Not much inspiration of my personal life reflected on early pages; at least not what I consider good stuff.


I developed a habit at an early age to ask people, who I felt were approachable, questions about where they came from, their family, and what growing up was like. I asked these questions because the friends I made, most of the time, were not main stream. To most who knew me, I did not suit the main stream of having nails done or anything in teen fashion. Most of my friends had something different about them whether they moved from another state, country or were just different in an awesome way. Something about them captured my attention.

When I asked those questions, I gained a skill essential to my career as a history student, journalist and now as a freelance writer. I later found the significance in my personal life. Believe me, I dug up a treasure trove, but the ability to ask questions gave me something some writers can lack if they are not careful: curiosity.

Writers should have curiosity, but it is sometimes lost when we focus on the pressure – which we place on ourselves - from the publishing industry or someone else we want to impress instead of first typing something on the page.


My grandmother told me, like many others, “Write what you know.” I have a lot experience; been many places; and I have some stories. I did not want to write a novel with a character semi based on me.

In a creative writing class in 2005, my teacher invited an author. I do not remember her name or the title of her book. It was a historical fiction novel about a Soviet botanist who was later purged by Stalin. She said a Russian reader was hesitant and doubtful about the work she—the American author—had done. She had never visited Russia, but she did research on the same island where the botanist had performed his research. The author forever changed my perception of writing.

She said you can use what you know, but write about what interests you. I’ve also been told write what you fear.

When I started my senior research paper about Kate Salley Palmer, I interviewed her and a former South Carolina representative—a female—who opposed the women’s rights movement. I heard the pain in Kate’s voice as she told detailed memories from college; girls who committed botched abortions.

I knew I could write, but I was also interested in writing about others or stories influenced by others. Yes, I experienced it through the very pain in their voices on my recorders. I heard the confessions, the nervousness in talking to me, and the setting. Who would know better than the person telling the story?

What was my job?

First, a historian. Ask questions.


“Honest history answers our questions only by asking something of us in return.”
~Edward L. Ayers

As a news staff writer, I told other people’s stories. Like an actor on the stage, I ceased to be myself. I wandered in their heads, pulled at their most sacred thoughts related to the story, and used the information for print.

Sons of the Edisto meant I had to ask my father a lot of questions. I interviewed other people about growing up in the Great Depression down to in what and how people bought their sugar. I took in every detail, and of course, double checked it.

I think writers must ask questions. They must ask each other questions, because that is the only way we learn. Where do you find your stories? Why are they important to you?

About these ads

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

3 thoughts on “The Writer Asks

  1. Pete Denton March 17, 2012 at 3:47 PM Reply

    Great post. I like reading about how other people approach their craft. For short stories I get the idea from anything like seeing someone on the bus, an article in a newspaper or something someone says. Inspiration is everywhere.

    • rtd14 March 18, 2012 at 6:22 PM Reply

      That is very true. Inspiration is everywhere, and I never know where it will pop up. It is great that you find it from so many places!
      I’m a big nerd when it comes to discovering how other writers and authors are influenced. I like the idea of the writing community.
      Thanks for your comment!!!

  2. Terence Emigholz March 22, 2012 at 10:43 PM Reply

    I like this web blog very much so much fantastic info.

Please leave your own word or more. Comments are appreciated!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Refreshingly Random

Need I say more?

61 Musings

Musings from a 61 year old introvert.

jovinacooksitalian

Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Natasha's Memory Garden

A fine WordPress.com site

Writings From Dr. Oolie's Pond

Poetry, Prose, and Random Thoughts

MilkshakesInSpring

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see"

John M Cusick

Write. Represent.

Scattered Pages

A Writer's Ramblings

justlatsblog

4 out of 5 dentists recommend this WordPress.com site

A Lot On Your Plate

A budget friendly blog (now an official website) that gives creative & practical tips, recipes, and more, to help inspire, organize, & simplify your life!

Project Light to Life

A bucket list blog: exploring happiness, growth, and the world.

Zany Zach's Blog

Amateur blog for mostly Film/CD/Book/TV reviews .........

CURNBLOG

Movies, thoughts, thoughts about movies.

The Red Pen of Doom

Conventional wisdom about writing is conventionally wrong.

adoptingjames

Read our Mission. Find out how you can help us adopt James.

Meals on Three Burners

I shop. I cook. I feed a family of six and I write.

The Original Journal Project

Handing over my journal to strangers since 1996 ~ Journal Your Journey

Angoor Press

Small Publisher of Fiction, Nonfiction, & Poetry

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,017 other followers

%d bloggers like this: