USEFUL READS: The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction Inspiration and Discipline

For writers, there is no such thing as shop-talk. What we do cannot be separated from who we are, cannot be compartmentalized into its own box. It is as expansive and necessary as breathing or blinking. Therefore, we can be very wordy when the subject at hand turns to our words. Whether we are discussing the technical (the fundamental underpinnings of an article or story) the personal (plot, characterization, voice) or the idiosyncratic (writing patterns, philosophy), we can go on and on, until our passion invokes boredom or annoyance in any non-writer listeners. This is not something that can be easily turned off, or satisfied with a quick “this is how my day went” briefing. Yet, speaking to someone who is not engaged in the writing life can often result in feelings of impotence, frustration, and misunderstanding. Explaining why you write is either the easiest or toughest thing in the world, depending on who is at the other side of the conversation.
My significant other–The Chef–is smart, astute, and possesses a large vocabulary. He recognizes my talent but does not begin to know the need I have to write, what it is that compels me to maintain such loyalty and dedication to something that is so hard-to-focus or pin-down. There is nothing immediate to show for writing except words on a page: concrete gratification is often long-delayed and far-short of what, seemingly, such hard work deserves. This is why the writing life is one of such abiding, enveloping loneliness; for who, but another writer, can begin to approach any coherent, compassionate understanding of what it is we do?
The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction Inspiration and Discipline Edited by Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davies is a squat little window into the strange, amorous and often isolated world of the writer. To be a writer is always to be the oddest person in a room. You could be surrounded by a bearded lady, a fire-eater, a con artist and a hobo, and chances are that you will be the one to come off as a childish slacker. It goes, however unfairly, with the territory. You eventually become accustomed to being viewed as a dreamer with unrealistic expectations by your nearest and dearest: trying to explicate the inner drive to write is simply too difficult.
Reading The Glimmer Train–made up of interviews from Glimmer Train Stories–is like having fabulous, enlightening, and intimate chats with your peers. Although I leaned a few pointers, the book is, for me, not so much a how-to of the writing game but a how-to-survive-the-writing-life guide. It cuts a deep swathe through the layers of isolation and misunderstanding inherent in such a lifestyle. It is sated with words of wisdom, humour, hope and shared perspective.
The interviews are served up, bite-sized, covering all manner of subjects: technique, inspiration, family, art, lifestyle, support, to name a few. What becomes apparent after a few pages is how much in common they–and we–have, in spite of differences in gift, genre,voice, and approach. Almost everyone, it seems, writes because they have no choice, because they cannot imagine not writing, because they are compelled to from some deep and unknowable source. They would write even if no one ever read their words.
The instructional part, for me, was in seeing how different writers approach the immensely painful, lonely, yet joyous task at hand; to see how they discipline themselves to do what is just damn hard work, day in and day out. Aside from that, nearly every page contains multiple gems, presents alternate but easy-to-relate to ways of thinking.
Perhaps the most impactful bit of advice, for me personally, comes from Richard Bausch, of whom I had never before heard. Instead of thinking of writing as an uprooting –of digging things up from deep within–he envisions it as a winding path, endless, where anything can present itself to you. I find that to be beautiful, insightful, doable.
This is a must-have for any writer ever in need of inspiration, understanding, or a pep-talk. It is always within reach of wherever I happen to be writing; it is also often to be found on my bedside table. I know that you, too, will find it well-worth the small investment involved.
I plan on showing the book to The Chef, with the hope that it will help to explain where I am coming from, as reader-writer. I believe that seeing such strong, plain, passionate words out of the mouths of others who share my obsessive sentiments will serve the purpose far better than I could. If, however, that does not work, The Glimmer train will at least provide me with a happy haven.

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