Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Learning to Say More: Turning a Workshop Story into a Book

The instructor was adamant—“Write about the one thing you   don’t want to write about.” When I did that, the truth popped out.

And now my book is coming out. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen in a bubble. It happened over 10 years inside Washington’s community of writers—many associated with The Writer’s Center—teachers, visiting authors, and everyday folks like me who simply love words. Writing, of course, is hard work often done in seclusion, but never underestimate how being present in other writers’ lives enriches your own.

I have often witnessed the power of close listening at The Writer’s Center. Years ago, an instructor’s interest in a vulnerable character I’d created forced me to pay more attention to what was not being said, to write instead about the fleas of life. With every Can you say more?, the genuine surprise of that instructor’s lifted brow gave me a deeper way in. Working the other side of the room were characters like me. The everyday writers who come to the center to improve their craft. A few were quick to raise a flag over verbal clutter in a work-in-progress or a missed opportunity in a short story; but rather than resentment, the humor and depth of purpose around the table seemed to breed community.

Some of my best tips came from fellow writers as we shared a class, then bivouacked in local coffee shops to pick over our stories with tiny, tiny scalpels. Over time, an intimate understanding of each other’s work turned on repeated threads from those stories. This created precious trust.

After one of my scalpeled pieces was published in the Washington Post Magazine, a New York agent sent me a simple but life-changing email: “Would you consider writing a book proposal?” Yes, I wrote back without hesitation—then turned to The Writer’s Center to figure out how the hell do I do that! Three months and a book proposal class later, the agent sold my idea to Putnam. I have now spent the last year writing Next Stop: Letting Go of an Autistic Son.

In a memoir class this fall, I read aloud from Next Stop for the first time. When I finished, I took a deep breath and looked into the generous faces of my fellow everyday writers. No one looked away, and in that moment I knew the writing would hold.

Glen Finland's work has appeared in the Washington Post, Revolution, American Magazine, the East Coast Women’s Anthology, and A Cup of Comfort. She is a recipient of the Southeastern Writers Association Best Fiction award and the Leroy Spruill Award for Short Fiction. A Noted Writer from the 2005 and 2006 Boston Fiction Festivals, Glen has taught writing at American University (MFA '05) with Fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Casa Libre in Tucson. Next Stop: Letting Go of an Autistic Son is due out from Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam in 2011. She can be found online at

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