I like the fact that Ann Wilmer always wrote, even if she wasn’t publishing. She wrote for herself. Isn’t that what we writers do? We write because the love of words compels us to write, even if no one ever reads our writing. (Although having someone else read our writing feels pretty good, too.)
I think you’ll appreciate her advice for writers and take on what makes a writer successful. Enjoy this interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?
If you start with the college degree as the point at which I went from an amateur to a professional then since 1975. I returned to my hometown in Maryland after earning my B.S. in journalism and public relations at the University of Florida. I ended up in PR but I also started freelance writing and was published under my own byline by 1976. There have been periods in my life when I didn’t write for publication but I always wrote, if only for myself.
What type of writing do you do?
In the main I write news features for publication and persuasive writing for personal satisfaction. I am driven to change the status quo about adoption reform. It’s my personal cause and in not only informs but also motivates a lot of the writing I do. I also co-wrote a cooking column with my mother a few years back because we both liked to cook — I wouldn’t mind doing that again although it would have to be on my ownsome now.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Independence is probably the best and worst thing about writing. It requires a lot of self-discipline.But it also gives you choices. When I read something that I have written and know it’s good, really good, that’s a wonderful high. Hearing from someone that your writing touched them in some way is, too.
Share some of your writing goals.
One thing I’ve been working toward is writing for a national magazine. Along the way there have been little milestones, like the dollar amounts for an article. I don’t consider myself a fiction writer but I am a pretty fair storyteller, so one of the ideas I keep toying with is writing a book-length manuscript about something of significance to me.
Is there a specific time of day you like to write?
Probably evening since I am really a night owl but a there is nothing like a deadline to light a fire under you.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
I’ve read a lot of books that were really interesting in different ways. One that I remember I really found interesting was Flowers in the Blood because it opened a world that was totally foreign to me — the opium industry, and it was set in India and I have always been fascinated by the East. I’ve also been reading The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, which is fascinating!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing very early, just to express myself, I was a major snail mail letter writer back in the day with pen pals all over the place. I didn’t think about a writing career until I was introduced to a study of the newspaper in middle school. I was fascinated. Everything grew from that. I wanted to be a reporter. At the heart of my writing, I am still, first and foremost, a reporter.
Jane Austen is far and away my favorite writer. Too bad she wrote so few books. But I enjoy the writings of many individuals and my favorite is usually who I am reading at the time.
Book you’re currently reading.
Song Yet Sung by James McBride
Any type of writing ritual you have?
I usually read first. I start the day reading news from all over. But I’m not sure if I’d call it a ritual or just a habit. My training is as a journalist and I am a news junkie. But there is a method, or rather several that I use. When I am having trouble figuring out how to approach something, I just write until I find it and then delete the foregoing as irrelevant. I also like to let copy lie for 24 to 48 hours before I proofread because, otherwise, I miss mistakes.
Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?
I occasionally get stuck but since I am not inventing situations and actions out of whole cloth it’s less a question of knowing what to say [THEN should be THAN} one of knowing how to say it. I do something else for a while and let my subconscious mind work on the problem. I read and answer email and I am soon communicating. My other trick — confidentially — is to play Free Cell on the computer because it helps me free my subconscious to do real work while I play. It also helped me learn to master the use of a mouse.
What’s the measure of a successful writer?
I guess that most people would consider financial reward as success. And it is one kind of success. But if you are motivated, even driven to write, then writing well is its own reward. One of the most gratifying experiences I have had is to pass on my writing skills to others. I taught for eight years at the local university and that included teaching both news and feature writing. I loved it and I got to mentor a few talented writers of whom I am very proud.
Advice for other writers?
Write every day. Don’t take rejection to heart. Read, read read! And it helps to have a day job.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I don’t think that individuals choose to be writers. I think writing chooses people and helps those who have something to say find their voice. I hope I always have something to say!