Straight Talk on Writing: 20 Conversations with Authors about the Craft

By Scott Francis | Go to book overview

Barbara Baig

“If you want to become a
better writer you need to
devote yourself to learning
and practicing your skills.”

Barbara Baig has devoted herself for almost three decades to the practices of writing and teaching. She has conducted dozens of writing workshops and classes for adults and college students, and was the writing instructor at Harvard Divinity School for twenty years. She now teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University.

I had the opportunity to speak with Baig as she was finishing up How to Be a Writer:How to Be a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practice and Play. Here she discusses writing practice, being in the moment, and more.

—SF


What message do you find
yourself repeating over and
over to writers?

Innate talent does not exist. If you want to become a better writer you need to devote yourself to learning and practicing your skills. There’s a wonderful book by Geoff Colvin, which I highly recommend, called Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everyone Else. The book explains what scientific researchers in the area of expert performance have learned in over three decades of research. They have shown that in athletics, music, chess, and many other fields, what makes people great is not a natural ability … but what they call “deliberate practice.” The same thing is true in writing: The more you devote yourself to practice, the more you will build your skills.


What piece of advice has
helped you the most as a
writer?

Peter Wayne, my t’ai chi teacher, says repeatedly in class, as we do the t’ai chi form, “Inhabit each movement as fully as you can. Be present in it—don’t [think] about what’s coming up next.” I keep this advice in mind all the time as I work. It enables me to be more present with what I can do now as a writer and teacher. When I fully inhabit the place where I am right now, I see much more clearly what I need to do next.


What’s the worst kind of
mistake that new writers
can make?

I think that new writers need to take the time to build their skills before they attempt to get published. There’s a lot to learn about writing, and you can waste a lot of time and energy trying to get into the “big leagues” of the publishing world when you should be mastering skills. For this reason, I also think that the focus in many writing workshops for beginners is misplaced; there’s far too much emphasis on producing finished pieces and not enough on learning skills. Aspiring baseball players don’t just go out and play games— the sports equivalent of producing

-6-

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Straight Talk on Writing: 20 Conversations with Authors about the Craft
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments i
  • Table of Contents ii
  • Introduction 1
  • Laurie Alberts 2
  • Barbara Baig 6
  • William Cane 9
  • Orson Scott Card 13
  • Sage Cohen 21
  • Sarah Dornet 25
  • Jeff Gerke 29
  • April Hamilton 32
  • Becky Levine 37
  • Donald Maass 41
  • Dinty W. Moore 43
  • Jessica Page Morrell 46
  • Steven Harper Piziks 49
  • Peter Seigin 53
  • George Singleton 57
  • James Alexander Thom 60
  • Fred White 62
  • Karen S. Wiesner 64
  • You’Ve Read the Interviews… Now Read the Books! 68
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