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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best creativity magazine in the UK“, author Joel Samberg writes about his writing career, what inspires him, and his creative writing process.
Written by Joel Samberg
Who am I?
I began in journalism at age 17 as a stringer for my hometown newspaper, then continued training in college as an arts reviewer. My first position after college was as an assistant editor on a trade magazine, after which I moved into public relations, marketing communications, and employee communications.
As a journalist my work has appeared in dozens of magazines, and I currently write the “Off Ramp” humor column for Connecticut Magazine.
I am the author of seven published books, including the novels Blowin’ in the Wind and Almost Like Praying, and the short story collection, Weinerface. My popular nonfiction book on the late singer Karen Carpenter, called Some Kind of Lonely Clown, followed a report on Ms. Carpenter that I wrote and narrated for National Public Radio. I have also produced CD compilations of the comedy music created by my late grandfather, Benny Bell, about whom I wrote a book called Grandpa Had a Long One.
My wife and I live in Connecticut, USA. We have three grown children, five grandchildren, and three cats, two of whom are Maine Coons expected to get as big as my 1973 Chevy Impala.
Ever since I was a kid, so much of what I saw, overheard, read in the news, learned in school, or simply wondered about I turned—in my head, at first—into books and movie and plays and television shows. I don’t know why. That’s just the way it was.
When I was 12 I wrote a screenplay and sent it to the MGM movie studio. I received an uplifting rejection note complimenting my creativity and encouraging me to never give up on my dream. Two years later, my 9th-grade English teacher accused me of plagiarizing a book report because she said it was too well written for a 14-year-old. She sent a nasty note home to my parents. Here’s the thing: I did not plagiarize that damn report! I just take writing very seriously. That settled it. From that day on I have never given up. And I never will.
As far as individual projects are concerned, I suppose I let the inspirations find me. It feels more natural that way. It goes back to what I previously mentioned about being a kid and visualizing books and plays blossoming from random observations. All of my fiction has been sparked that way. Blowin in the Wind is based on specific feelings I had as a child.
Almost Like Praying is based on my fascination with the family who lived across the street. A third of the stories in Weinerface are based on things that actually happened to me or to people I knew. The rest of the stories are based on ideas ignited by random sightings, comments that were overheard, extrapolations on various what-if scenarios, or expansions of conversations with friends.
My Writing Process
Since I consider writing as much a hobby as a job, as much a passion as a hobby, and as much a privilege as a passion, I don’t see the need for rules and set procedures when it comes to my process. And that, I suppose, is why the process is likely to be different from project to project. I decide how to approach a new self-assignment with an open mind. Whatever feels right. Whatever works. The one constant is that I usually have a beginning and an end even before I begin. The process then becomes a puzzle, where it is my job as puzzle master to make sure I connect the beginning with the end in as logical, emotional, sensible, provocative, and satisfying a way as possible.
Other than that, no rules.
Sometimes I compose a draft in which I move puzzle pieces around. Sometimes I just sit in front of the computer and let my imagination—and the characters and their situations—take me to wherever they want. Still other times I leave my home-office, settle on a hammock, and use longhand to turn ideas into words and scenes.
There are several parts to being a writer. 1) The creation of a compelling story; 2) the ability to tell that story logically and convincingly; and 3) the technical tools to assure the language is professional and succinct, the spelling and grammar exemplary, and that the when read it flows seamlessly, like the lyrics of a beautiful song. The best writers are those who have a command over all three. Those unwilling to abide by that or even just to try should seriously think about doing something else.
One final note: when you complete a draft, it is vital to put it away for two months, or even four or six, and then take it out and reread and reedit it with a fresh pair of eyes.
For a host of reasons, publishing is harder today than it was years ago. Two things to remember: 1) If you throw enough stuff against the wall, somewhere along the line you’ll have something that is likely to stick. In other words, never give up. 2) If you cannot find a legitimate publisher, self-publishing (vanity publishing) is always an option. But if you go this route, please do not pass yourself off as a professionally published writer, unless you’ve previously been legitimately published.
Let’s say you sell your house on your own and then buy a new one. Can you call yourself a professional real estate agent? No. There are rules and codes of conduct and licenses that are required. Writing is no different. A professional writer’s license is implied after being published by a legitimate entity (book publisher, magazine, newspaper, authentic news or entertainment website, etc.).
Good writing has been devalued in recent years because of self-publishing and social media. As writers, it is our job to raise the level of respect for our craft—by being good writers and being genuine about it.
Where to Reach Me and Find More Background & Information
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