Welcome to week twenty-two of the #WritersQuick5 series - where we learn about writing from fellow writers.
This week I am honored to bring you the insights of award winning author David W. Berner. I know David through the Chicago Writers Association and was recently privileged to attend the book launch of his latest memoir, October Song: A Memoir of Music and the Journey of Time, at the Book Cellar (one of my all-time favorite bookstores: win-win!).
David has had an impressive career as a long-time Chicago journalist and broadcaster, working mainly for WBBM/WXRT Radio. His broadcast reporting and audio documentaries have been aired on the CBS Radio Network, NPR’s Weekend Edition, and public radio stations across America.
David’s first book, Accidental Lessons was awarded the Royal Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature and he was recently the Writer-in-Residence at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois. In the summer of 2011, David was awarded the position of Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac Project in Orlando, Florida.
David’s memoir, Any Road Will Take You There was completed at the Kerouac House and in 2013, the Chicago Writers Association awarded it Book of the Year for nontraditional nonfiction.
His latest book, October Song: A Memoir of Music and the Journey of Time, was called "beautifully authentic" by Windy City Reviews.
David’s writing has also appeared in publications and online journals such as Eunoia Review, Under the Gum Tree, PERIGEE, Tiny Lights Journal, Shaking Like a Mountain, Clef Notes Journal, and Write City Magazine.
He currently teaches at Columbia College Chicago.
Let’s see what David has to say…
Question #1 - Where do you write and why do you write there?
Physically, I write in coffee houses and inside a writer's shed built on my property. It's an 8x10 garden shed converted into a writing studio. There's a desk, a few of my favorite books, a fan, a space heater, a comfy chair. I love coffee houses because, well, I love coffee and I like the noise sometimes, the whir of espresso machines and the conversations. But my shed is quiet, and it permits solace and space from all the other temptations. It is my little writing world.
Question #2 - What is unique about writing for your particular genre?
I write mostly memoir and creative nonfiction. Although I have written a book of fiction, Night Radio, that some who know me say is autobiographical. It's not. But some of it is definitely based on my experiences as a broadcaster.
What's unique about memoir? Good memoir must be honest. And I mean REALLY honest. The reader will know when you are holding back. There are so many great stories within our own lives and memoir is vehicle to tell them. I'm not a big fan of what's been called ""dystopian memoir""—personal stories about the tragically dysfunctional family, abuse, or disease. There is a place for that; it's just not my style. I write memoir about relationships, about people and their influences on us, about our inner demons and struggles to belong, accepting our lives, personal redemption, or personal journey. To write this kind of memoir one must be ready to be personally vulnerable.
Question #3 - What are some of your grammar or punctuation pet peeves?
Less and fewer. People get this wrong ALL THE TIME. I am far from a grammar Nazi. I make plenty of mistakes. But the less/fewer thing? It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Also, the overuse of commas. I find myself doing it and I have to cut them out constantly. But grammar is a tool. Story is a completely different thing. Focus on story.
Question #4 - At what point in your writing process do you start to bring other people in to review your work?
I share work often. Friends, colleagues. Please read, I tell them. What do you think? I also submit pieces of larger projects to literary magazines, etc., to see if they get accepted, roundly rejected, or looked at indifferently. It signals something for me about the larger work. I'm working on a project now about the idea of "home" and writing a lot about growing up, leaving my hometown, and then coming back to it briefly after deaths in the family. It's a memoir-in-essays approach, so the "chapters" can stand alone. I've shared a number of those pieces and one has been published in Eunoia Review. The Consequence of Stars is an essay about my parents' connection to their hometown.
Question #5 - What advice would you give to a new writer about the writing process?
Reject writer’s block. There is no such thing. It's does not exist. Writer's block is an excuse. Go to work; perform your craft. Sit down and get to it. Make time, set a particular time to write. it doesn't have to be every single day, but it should be on some regular basis. Even if it's just fifteen minutes on a commuter train each morning or every other morning. Get down words. They don't have to be good words but write anyway. Writers do not wait for the muse; real writers capture the muse and get to work. If you are going to be a writer you have to write. There is no waiting around for inspiration.
I'm also not a big fan of writing conferences. They have their place. But for me, keep your money and use it to find a hotel room somewhere where you can be alone to write. The work is the thing. You can only talk about writing so much before you actually must do it. Read great works; works you would have liked to have written. Learn from it, learn the craft, and then get on with it.
Thank you David for these incredible answers. I learned so much and aspire to have a writer’s shed; sounds perfect! I also really love the idea of “writer’s block is an excuse.” There’s so much truth to that. If you’re feeling tired - write about feeling tired. Use it. Just as you said, “Writers do not wait for the muse; real writers capture the muse and get to work.” SO TRUE.
If you want to follow David, please check out his website, his blog 'The Constant Story,' and find him on Twitter and Facebook. Also be sure purchase his new book, October Song, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
If you would like to be featured as a writer in the #WritersQuick5 series, please just reach out and let me know. I’d love to promote your work as well!
For updates on #WritersQuick5 and other info from me, please follow me on Twitter or check back with this blog for all the latest.