Article · Interview · Writing Craft

Amy Friedman: Writer’s advice

Amy Friedman was a guest speaker at my local writing club in Ontario Library. I was curious about her knowledge about prisoners because I help out at Claremont’s Prison Library Project, mailing books to prisoners. Amy offered advice for writers, an entertaining series of short stories based on personal experiences. This is how she explained the benefits of joining a critique workshop:

“When I tell people that I married a man who was serving a life sentence for murder, the most common response is negative—comments like ‘What were you thinking? Why?’ Well, I got married because I fell in love, and I fell in love with a prisoner because he was a person, and everyone is complex.

As a writer, you cannot predict people’s reactions but hearing their perspective gives you new eyes and feedback will improve your writing. When I was looking for a new critique group for my memoir ‘Desperado’s Wife,’ someone in a prospective workshop group said, ‘you married a man who was in prison. Yuck, how could you do that?’ and I decided this was the right team of people to critique my book. When my chapter about falling in love with a prisoner elicited positive reactions, it successfully moved people to think differently.”

Friedman teaches memoir and personal essay at the UCLA Extension Writers Studio, and is a journalist by training. Top on her list of advice was to write, and write often. Years of deadlines with a local newspaper kept her on task, writing two thousand words every week.  Amy said this column was hard work,  and a “gift” because these personal essay assignments made her writing authentic, and encouraged her to “helicopter” into new worlds for inspiration. The more she wrote, “the more clear what I was trying to say came on the page.”

It also fostered a column, “The Bedtime Story,” her idea for a newspaper story for children. Which lead to her second recommendation—pursue all chances to get your writing out into the world. Writing and discovering publishing opportunities will lead to publication, however writing for the sake of becoming published will not. Don’t write for others. Write because it has to be written, even if it were for one person.

The craft of writing is making one mess of a draft and re-writing it into a story. Once the book is written, an author is still not done. “It takes staying power, more than you’d ever imagine to finish a book project.”  Agents come and go, bestselling topics come and go, and these cycles are out of your control. No one can predict what book will hit the mark. All a writer can do is write with an authentic voice and be attentive to their projects.

While working on this list, Amy had collaborated with her husband who is also a writer. His comments focused on expectations, specifically the formula of time and money—and return on investment. Few writers, even successful ones, live off the money made from selling books. Most writers have side jobs to pay the bills; her income is from teaching, editing and ghostwriting. It takes time to write a book, years to market, to publish, and a writer might not see a paycheck from a book for as long as four years. If you want to be a writer, choose to write as a career, not for the experience of a one time writing project.

Writing is a combination of negative and positive experiences. When Amy was ghostwriting a book, One Soufflé at a Time, she found herself travelling to Yorkshire, England and even had meals prepared for her by a private chef in a castle in Burgundy! A definite perk.

When you are a writer, you never know what world, fictitious or real, will open up to you.


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