Writing Takeaways from Judy Blume in Conversation

Blume-in-ConversationI had the pleasure of attending a Los Angeles Public Library ALOUD Lecture featuring author Judy Blume in conversation with Alex Cohen on June 9. Blume has been on a whirlwind book tour for her new novel for adults, In the Unlikely Event. I was there to grab a copy and hear her speak for the second time.

I’d hazard to say it’s more worthwhile to hear authors as prolific and successful as Blume speak about her process and her path than it is to take classes on writing. The first time I heard her in conversation I was working through what seemed like the millionth draft of my novel and was encouraged when she said she was on her twenty-third draft of Summer Sisters.

And Blume said it herself, during this most recent conversation, “Nobody can teach you to write, but they can encourage you.”

But one of the most interesting series of moments happened during the Q&A when aspiring writers approached the microphone to ask Blume to elaborate on her process–what inspires her to write specific stories, how does she write dialogue, what’s her secret?

And nine times out of ten, Blume shrugged. She said, “I don’t know how my process works. I’m just glad it does.”

In-the-Unlikely-Event-BlumeShe did add that dialogue comes naturally to her, whereas descriptive prose does not. She actually drew from newspaper stories reporting on the crash that forms the central focus of her new novel for the descriptive prose. This isn’t a secret method; it’s just being aware of the tools available to you.

I think what hit me most about the Q&A session was seeing so many people who, like me, are on the road, trying to figure out how it all works and how to put a story to the page and make it speak to others. One audience member broke into tears–she begged for one crumb of knowledge that might help her with her own story. I felt like I’d come a long way since I first saw Blume in 2012 because I knew the answer.

“You have to be determined,” said Blume. “Get the critique and censor off your shoulder. You have to keep going.”

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The Blogs, the Novel and the Wordsmith

The Blogs. I’ve been a shameful blogger, turning my back on numerous blogs developed with vague subject matter and little point; deciding I want little to do with the freakish, partially developed creations after a few posts.

But there’s a point to this blog, and it revolves around an activity I’ve been obsessed with since childhood: writing.

The Novel. There couldn’t be a better time to start a blog on my progress, thoughts and struggles with writing because I’m currently undertaking a great endeavor¬† – I’m completing a novel. This novel is a project I’ve been working on for the past five years. Like my old blogs, it was begun with great gusto, only to wind up in a sealed jar, pickling in my inevitable disappointment.

This year, I tore up my closets to find that jar and resuscitate the still-breathing fetus inside after a sudden realization. I’m turning 30 next year, and my departure from the blissful “I-have-plenty-of-time” 20’s sent me into a panic about how very little time I actually have. I mean, I nearly killed myself slipping beside a hotel jacuzzi this weekend – maybe I’ll be swiftly ended by an urban ninja tomorrow. Who knows?

I need to get this book done and out there. I need to say, perfectionism be damned.

The Wordsmith. That whole “Wordsmith” thing is a reference to my work supervisor’s frequent requests to use my wordsmith-ery on projects. I find it amusing that she sees me as someone who can flourish a wand and presto-chango the black swan sentences into graceful, white swans. It’s a flattering comment but, honestly, the process of writing, revising and proofing isn’t mystically simple, it’s hard work, not only because I have flaws and weaknesses as a writer. I am not an expert, but a constant student, and this blog is a record of my learning process.