The second installment of this month’s Three by Five interview with Linda Simone
LS: I was lucky to be nurtured along the way, so nurturing writers and passing it forward is one of my favorite things. This is want I did for over four years, as Assistant Director of the Masters of Arts in Writing program at Manhattanville College. Students were always tenuous in their confidence as writers. Whenever I advised or taught students, I’d ask them to trust me and to trust themselves because their writing was always better than they thought. So to emerging writers I say: self-doubt is your own worst enemy. You need to go with your gut and trust your ear. Be honest. Be brave. Read it out loud. You’ll know when a line or a paragraph rings true and the real you shines through. That’s your tuning fork.
VAH: That is a terrific validation – “You’ll know when a line or a paragraph rings true…” When did you know you were a writer and how did that manifest for you?
LS: I realized that I wasn’t a Major Medical contract writer (actually I was but was dying a small slow death from lack of a creative outlet). When the job was downsized and I got a generous bonus and severance, it was a blessing in disguise. I used that money to start my own freelance editorial business to earn a living, and then joined the National Writers Union to nourish my more creative, personal writing. In the mid-1980s, the Writers Union gave me the community of writers I needed.
I came to the Writers Union member via my first Writers’ Conference sponsored by the Union’s Westchester Chapter. I was so pumped by what I learned from the teaching writers, and so enthused by the collegiality I felt from fellow attendees, that I felt like Columbus discovering America. I had no idea what was out there—a sea of writers struggling with the same things I was struggling with. It was the beginning of learning the “how tos” of improving my writing, and marketing it.
I eventually joined the Chapter and formed friendships that I cherish to this day. It’s where I met my Sapphires. From Sarah, the Chapter’s charismatic President, I learned more about real leadership than from any corporate job I’ve ever held. For the past dozen or so years, we venture to Ann’s Vermont home for an annual “writing and acting silly” retreat. Before we leave, we discuss each other’s writing and what our plans and dreams are for the coming months.
VAH: And formal writing education, such as the MFA? Is it worthwhile?
LS: I have a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College. The school has since gone to an MFA, but my work schedule and a move to Manhattan made it impossible to take advantage of upgrading my degree. Has it helped my career or development? I’d have to say it has in these ways: it connects you with teachers of writing, some better than others, but you learn from both. It provides a community of writers—who see your work develop and whose work you see develop. Perhaps its biggest value to me is validation– it validated me in my own mind as a writer. This, of course, is not necessary, but a lot of people, like me, need the diploma to feel “legitimate.” Do I think the degree is necessary? Absolutely, if you want to teach. Relatively, if you think it is. But really, to be a writer doesn’t require a degree. It requires writing, reading, rewriting, and interacting with your own community of writers—even if that is just one other person you trust who also writes and with whom you can share your work and give and get constructive critique.
For me, it’s been a worthwhile experience. I’m glad I did it. It energized my work and exposed me to writers and poets I probably never would have read. It helped in recognizing my voice. And let’s not forget the benefit of a deadline – when you have an assignment due, you sit your butt down and write. No procrastination allowed.
VAH: That structure of the formal academic setting and demand of weekly workshop certainly teaches skills for keeping procrastination at bay. Your statement though that “to be a writer doesn’t require a degree” I think is vitally important. The community of writers is there be that in formal study or not. With community of writers in mind, do you have a favorite conference or writing retreat or seminar?
LS: I do love Manhattanville College’s Summer Writer’s Week. I’ve always found it to be a wonderfully energizing, soul-feeding and exhausting 4-1/2-day immersion into writing. I went as a writer and I also ran it for four years as an administrator and loved it from both perspectives.
VAH: Writing as occupation – how is that for you? And if you weren’t writing, what would your work be instead?
LS: I am a full-time writer of corporate communications. It’s hectic, but I love it because it allows me to make sure that our 2500+ employees at all levels within our organization–as well as external stakeholders–get the messages and news they need. I take this job very seriously. When the message is clear and engaging, there’s more action, less dissatisfaction, and less time wasted. That said, if I had to choose any occupation other than a writer, I’d want to be a visual artist. I guess I’m just destined to a life of rejection and starvation.
Linda on the web:
Linda Simone on Three by Five in the month of September on the 3rd, 13th, 23rd and 30th.