How I Drive Writers to Drink (In a Good Way?)

This is a guest post from Kevin Derr, who shares his experience of a writing workshop I gave last weekend in Evansville, Ind. Find Kevin Derr on Facebook.

Big thanks to the Evansville Public Library & the Midwest Writers Guild for their promotion of the event, to make it standing-room only!

More than sixty people sat in the library meeting room with their
lottery ticket-like manuscripts and query letters in their hands. The
imposing editor, all five foot four inches and one hundred and sixteen
skinny pounds of her, stood before the room and told them why their
work, their expression of their souls, may be art, hell, it may even be
good, but isn’t saleable.

word, saleable, one of the little rounds of market ammunition that
pierce the skin of each of them every day in their real lives is there
to destroy the one thing, the one hope, those writers have of escaping
Smith’s invisible hand, that hand used to choke the weak and lavish
riches on the strong. That word keeps them from leaving the burning
factory, the stinking nursing home sick rooms, the mind numbing second
grade classroom and the domestic life solitary prison.

part-time writer and full-time transmission mechanic sits in the back
of the room looking over the heads of the others, mostly women and
mostly red heads, nearly everyone older, old enough to want to fulfill
this one wish, to publish, before it’s too late. He holds his
manuscript in his grease stained hands knowing that his work is
different. His work is art. His work will make the world take one step

He leaves the program, afraid to talk with the others,
afraid to listen to their self-inflated greatness and mixes a drink
from his emergency rations for the long drive home. A few short paved
miles and he is on gravel. He takes his first drink and it’s good,
whiskey, mostly whiskey, and Mountain Dew.

A fearless doe walks
into the road. She stops and looks at the transmission mechanic as he
comes to a stop. He stares at her, her big brown eyes, her muscular
flanks, her unimpeachable, natural beauty and the writer forgets about
salability and automatic transmissions and he plans his next story, a
good one.

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0 thoughts on “How I Drive Writers to Drink (In a Good Way?)

  1. Steve

    Thanks Kevin. Not sure about the whiskey, but your point overall is right on!

    I just came from a blog where I saw the umpteenth piece of a certain kind of advice that pervades writing blogs – advice which was really about saleability, although the term was never used. (Which shows the arrogance of these people – their advice is framed as "how to write" as though the goal of saleability is so universally accepted that it need not even be stated).

    What got to me was first the typical rant against the dreaded exposition ("we don’t need no steenkin backstory"), as well as a point called "kill your darlings" which advocates finding passages you think are particularly good and taking them out of the work. I believe she attributed this gem to Faulkner. I wouldn’t know. Never read him, never will. Doubt that he’s my kind of people.

    In this vision of the novel everything is action, tension and conflict. Heaven help us if an element of the story should enlighten , inform or elevate (or even entertain) without "advancing the plot".

    I let fly with several paragraphs on the subject of writing the story I want to tell, and not censoring myself for a bunch of adrenaline junkies. I quoted (probably misquoted) Eugene Debs to her. "Would you rather vote for what you believe in and lose, or vote for what you don’t believe in and win"? I’m writing for the audience that can appreciate what I need to say, even if that audience is small.

    If I’m not saleable, screw’em!


  2. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

    Whiskey isn’t my first choice, but some days, even tequila doesn’t cut the edge. Kevin, please don’t hate me because I’m an ambitious, 40-something, redhead writer. There’s room enough for all… but remember, it’s hunting season in these here parts. I might have to shoot your story.


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