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Alice Munro and Feeding the Lake

Alice Munro - Feed the Lake

[Playing the role of Alice Munro is lead Lighthouser Andrea Dupree. This fact is critical to the story, though the reason why never becomes apparent.]

At last week’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop salon, the fabulous Kimberly McClintock, Phyllis Barber, and Steven Schwartz shared their tricks of the trade for sticking with their work over the long haul. The Lighthouse grotto was packed, and for good reason — we writers are an ambitious, stubborn, moody, self-critical lot, and we need all the support we can get. In a nutshell, Kimberly, Phyllis, and Steven told us to never, never, never, never, never give up.

In her talk, Kimberly reinforced the difference between those who want 1 marshmallow now or have the patience to wait for something better—2 marshmallows in 15 minutes. (Me? I think marshmallows are stupid and squishy and taste like chalk. Unless they’re paired with graham crackers and chocolate. That’s right, I’m going for the whole damn smore.)

Phyllis noted that we write because we have to, because we have a story we absolutely have to tell. And how does she banish the writer’s block that can get in the way of storytelling? Dancing helps. (I’m going to try this out. For real.) Steven also shared “the first really important precept of being a writer: you have to save yourself in this business—over and over and over again.”

Saving yourself is a long-haul premise. Among other things, it involves accepting the fact that you’re a writer and communicating that fact with your head held high when people ask what you do for a living. Regardless whether you’ve been published. Or how many times you’ve been published. Or where you’ve been published. Or how much cash you’ve made from your craft. Or what some people think of your “hobby.” Or what you think of yourself on a bad day. (Guess what? Your first draft probably is crap. Most first drafts are. Now it’s time to get to work.)

Steven also told us to “Accept loneliness. Because you WILL be lonely. But hear this: you’ll be lonelier if you don’t write. When you’re not writing, you feel hollow inside, even when you’re surrounded by people. Simply put, there’s the loneliness of the work, and the loneliness without it. You have to endure one to overcome the other.”

And, thing is, you’ll be lonelier without a group like Lighthouse. What Kimberly, Phyllis, and Steven reinforced in my mind is that community helps us dispel the myths (“other writers are having an easier go of it than I am”) and champion each other’s successes, big and small.

Case in point — Inspired by these fabulous speakers, Amanda Rea, Jannett Matusiak, and I are kicking asses and taking names, wordsmith style. We three have end-of-August deadlines, and if we miss our deadlines we have to do the one thing each of us dreads the most.

If Amanda doesn’t hit her deadline, she’ll chew a multivitamin, which tastes even worse than marshmallows. If Jannett doesn’t hit her deadline, she’ll have to go on a 2-mile run. If I don’t hit my deadline, Amanda will have to eat a multivitamin and Jannett will have to run 2 miles.

Amanda: Just to clarify, Carolyn, if you don’t hit your deadline, Jannett and I are punished?

Carolyn: Missing my deadline would leave me with paralyzing guilt. It would hurt me more than it would hurt you. It might even screw up my sleep cycles. Possibly for multiple nights.

Jannett: Screwed-up sleep cycles for multiple nights! That sounds awful.

Amanda: Um, Jannett, I’m still not convinced that Carolyn’s punishment is sufficient.

Jannett: Oh, she’ll hit her deadline. If she doesn’t, we’ll be forced to kill her, which will leave us with paralyzing guilt. And possibly screw up our sleep cycles.

Carolyn: We should probably let Alice Munro weigh in here.

Alice Munro: Why are these my first lines? Wasn’t I supposed to play a bigger role in this piece?

Carolyn: Shoot. This is my crappy first draft. Sorry about that. How’s about I let you end with that cool quote from Jean Rhys? You know, the one Steven Schwartz read at the salon?

Alice Munro: Won’t people be confused if Andrea Dupree, playing the role of Alice Munro, quotes Steven Schwartz who was in turn quoting Jean Rhys?

Carolyn: Nah. We writerly types are a savvy bunch. Give it a whirl.

Alice Munro: Okay, here goes. Jean Rhys, author of The Wide Sargasso Sea, said, “Listen to me. I want to tell you something very important. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are trickles like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters.”

Carolyn: Whoa.

Alice Munro: I know, right? All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. Now how awesome is that?

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