“I believe our writing can be a gift to the world.”

This blog post is by Laura Markowitz, the Library's most recent Writer in Residence.

During my three months as Writer in Residence, people from all over Southern Arizona consulted with me at Flowing Wells Library and Wheeler Taft Abbett Sr. Library. The majority had never spoken with a professional writer before, and some were visibly nervous when they first sat down. But as soon as we started to talk about their projects and ambitions, they became animated and eager to share their ideas. During our 30-minute sessions, I listened to poems, opening paragraphs, chapter outlines, short stories, essays, and fragments of memoirs. I heard their ideas for novels, nonfiction books, podcasts, graphic novels, and more.

We each bring to the page our own perspectives, our own sacred lexicons, our own dreams, visions, and values. I believe our writing can be a gift to the world. Whether we’re communicating about hope, catastrophe, family, loneliness, mysticism, healing, garbage, frogs, unrepentant villains, international spies, outlaws, wildlife, climate change, prison life, or anything else, we’re making this effort for the benefit of complete strangers. We likely will never meet the people who read or hear our work, but like a stone thrown in a pond, our ideas ripple out to touch and inspire others. I encouraged the people who consulted with me to honor their desire to write because it is the desire to share their unique knowledge, humor, experience, imagination, and passion with the world.

We got a lot of work done in those fishbowl study rooms at Flowing Wells and Abbett on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. I suggested line edits on query letters to agents, fan fiction, literary contest submissions, MFA applications, chapter transitions, and poetry anthologies. One in four people asked me to walk them through the self-publishing process. I also answered questions about how to write scripts for videos and podcasts. I taught people how to create mind maps of novels in progress and novels not yet started; diagnosed possible reasons for writer’s block (and offered techniques to overcome it); found and fixed plot holes; demonstrated ways to make characters three-dimensional; talked about why to use all the senses to describe a scene; lifted the verbs off the page to expose the morals of fictional characters; and exhorted everyone—no matter what the project—to always keep the reader in mind. Good writing means readers want to keep reading (and listeners want to keep listening). Words are the tools, the paint, the clay, we use to make meaning, build worlds, shape philosophies, and lift one another up.

The most important contribution I believe I made during my stint as Writer in Residence was to give people permission to write. I often heard, “I’m not a writer,” and my answer to that was, “That’s okay. Just write.” Just play. Just enjoy the process. Why is it so challenging for people to enjoy writing? I explored this question in the workshop I taught at the Tucson Festival of Books, called “How to Quiet Your Inner Critic and Find Your Flow.” Too many people were told by teachers, parents, or friends, “You can’t write,” and now they feel inadequate whenever they sit down in front of a blank page or screen. Yet, they long to write because they have ideas and stories they are burning to share. I believe our inner critics are actually trying to help us. They are trying to protect us from embarrassment, because putting our ideas out in the world makes us vulnerable to criticism, ridicule, and being dismissed. So the inner critic stops us from writing. Long ago, I learned to managed my own inner critic by acknowledging its protective role. “Thanks, but don’t worry,” I tell it. “We’re just playing here. We’re just having fun. There is no danger. You can relax.” In a later workshop I taught, I focused on transforming the inner critic into an inner editor who can improve the work by being curious and energized.

When people say to me, “I’m not a writer,” I say, “That’s fine. You don’t need to have a degree, an agent, awards, or a publisher to be a writer. You simply need to write.” So to all the people who consulted with me, and to those who were on the waiting list and never got to see me, and to everyone else whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting: best wishes, and thank you for writing.