On Becoming a Writer

 

A State of Mind

 

If you’re a writer, you’ll understand what it takes to become one. If you want to be a writer, or are just curious about these artists who create the things you like to read, then you’ll learn something here. Read what some of the best writers in America have to say about the Archer City experience. And what the writers who have come out of the workshop say about why Archer City will always be home to them.

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Finding My Voice Up Where the Air is Clear

by Eric Nishimoto

Eric is the 2013 Mayborn Biography Fellow, who just recently returned from his writer-in-residency at Stone Feather Ridge, the home of acclaimed biographer James McGrath Morris and his wife Patty. Here are a few of Eric’s thoughts after two and a half weeks of writing in paradise.

Read  more of Nishimoto’s Finding My Voice Up Where the Air is Clear

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ReportersNotebook

Out of the Fiery Cauldron a Writer Emerges

by Amelia Jaycen

When you find that every cell in your body is motivated toward story-telling— as George says, “stories no one else is telling in ways no one else is telling them”—if your protons and neutrons are spinning and all your chemistry has undergone catalysis, it is possibly due to the introduction of a whole lot of Archer City Magic Dust.  In a terrifying trip to the soft center of a new writer, an Archer City student reflects on what she found out about writing and herself on a few dusty roads in the blazing July heat.

Read more of Jaycen’s Out of the Fiery Cauldron>

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On Skinny Dipping in the West

by JK Nickell

In the summer of 2011, I landed in Archer City, filled with more uncertainty and emotional turmoil than a 12 year old teenager. I’d recently quit my job as a teacher, a stable gig that I enjoyed, to do something else. I wasn’t really sure what. I wanted to become a writer, or I was a writer and I wanted to try and make a living out of it. Something like that. This was a rash decision that obliterated what was once a carefully plotted career trajectory that involved lots of graduate school and an eventual post at a university.

My carefully plotted trajectory quickly disintegrated when I faced George Getschow, the leader of the Archer City Writers Workshop.  He started asking the kinds of prodding questions that only George can. Why are you here? What do you want out of this?

Read more of Nickell’s On Skinny Dipping in the West>

Also read Nickell’s Last Round-Ups>

J.K. Nickell has written for TIME.com, the Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor and The Rumpus. He received his Master’s from the Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism.

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 Adventures in McMurtryland (from the Mayborn Magazine, 2009)

by Lowell Brown

The dusty pickup plunges into the July night, and soon the lights of this tiny West Texas town are gone, replaced by a serene darkness unknown to the urbanites packed side by side in the truck bed. The truck wobbles over the gravel roads, laboring to gain traction with every turn like a roller coaster climbing its first drop, and we struggle to grasp something stable. Wheels churn, spewing rocks and dust behind us as the pickup lumbers on and on into the darkness, steered by a 20-something cowboy who may or may not be inebriated.

So this is backroading, I think, as the balmy breeze ruffles my hair.

Read more of Brown’s Adventures in McMurtryland>

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Bull RunHow the Hell Did I Get Here?  

by Alicia Auping

Dust swirls. It’s a staring contest, and I’m losing. My opponent’s eyes are pools of black bulging from his head. His head is the size of my entire body, and he lowers it, swinging it back and forth. Never mind the horns.

How the hell did I get here?

Even though I lived in Fort Worth, Texas for almost ten years, astonishingly I never stepped foot into the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. The closest the annual rodeo ever came to affecting me was the overflow parking that invaded The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, where my dad is the Chief Curator. That’s my world: art, poetry, literature.

I spent my formative years in Buffalo, New York, my hometown. I’m a city girl. I don’t like horses. My encounters with horses have been limited to Susan Rothenberg’s abstract renderings. Horses terrify me…

Read more of Auping’s How the Hell Did I Get Here?>

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The Truth About Archer City

by Tom Junod

“I have always preached that writers should have a personal connection to what they’re writing. I have always insisted that writing, at its best, functions as a record of finding a personal connection to what you’re writing, hiding a personal connection to what you’re writing, exploiting a personal connection to what you’re writing, or rising above a personal connection to what you’re writing. You can’t tell a story unless you know why you’re telling it: That’s something I’ve said, over and over again, to college classes and newspaper enrichment programs, and something I believe that I’ve practiced, over and over again, in my 25 years of writing for magazines. By now, maybe it’s even something of a schtick.

I was sort of amazed, then, by how profound—how profoundly moving and profoundly terrifying—I found the experience of being asked about my personal connection to my writing by George Getschow, in a place that offered nowhere to hide…”

Read more of Junod’s The Truth About Archer City>

Tom Junod has been called the best narrative writer in America. He came to Archer City looking for some kind of elixir to bolster him through the second half of his writing career.

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The Problem with Writing

by Mike Mooney

“There’s a dog barking in the distance. I can hear the neighborhood kids playing outside, enjoying a temperate summer evening, an anomaly in North Texas. I want to talk to my fiancée. Or go for a walk. Or play with the dog. I’m tempted to check Facebook, Twitter, email, text messages, the scores of four or five different games. There are so many great stories to read. Part of me wants to wade mindlessly through the Internet, to get lost in a labyrinth of Wikipedia pages and YouTube videos, to learn things I know I’ll forget by tomorrow. I don’t want to write.

I’m greasy and tired and my eyes feel dry from staring at the screen. I’ve been working on this for too long, sweating, worrying, running sentences over in my head. I’ve typed up thousands of words I don’t like, deleted lede after lede after lede. I’ve read parts aloud, scribbled different outlines in notebooks, talked it out a few times with a few different people.

But here I am. Still sitting in front of the keyboard, still hoping the draft I’ve got open will turn into … something. I’m not even sure who might end up reading this. But I want to tell the story the right way, to get across the right points. This is it though. The point is the sitting still, trying to block out the sounds, the world. Trying to focus, to conjure, to sculpt out of the marble of our minds…”

Read more of Mooney’s The Problem with Writing>

Mike Mooney, an award-winning journalist and a workshop alumnus, reflects on his “pain cave.”

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The Wind is Changing

by Annette Nevins

Like lines on an old woman’s face, long deep crevices split the splotched wood that frames the tiny tan and white house, its two front windows watching over West Cherry Street as it has for more than half a century. Lace curtains that once fluttered in the Texas breeze are gone, the house now squinting through tattered aluminum blinds.  A chicken coop no longer chatters with hens but lay in rubble of grey corrugated metal and twisted wire where a lonely hen now scratches and pecks through tangles of dried grass hunting for something to eat.  As dark clouds gather, dried limbs of an old weathered hackberry scrape against the house like fingernails on a chalkboard. Creeeak. Scraaaape. Two young peach saplings, struggling to take root in the dried split earth, bend and toss in gusts of wind.  Locusts sing in the Texas heat as 102-year-old Lona Lewis steps carefully through a maze of cracks and holes, punching her cane in the hard ground to steady herself. Creeeeeaaaak. Scraaaape. The wind picks up and clouds begin to spit, moistening the concrete step as the frail and slightly bent woman brushes silver wisps of hair from her brow, wraps her bony fingers securely around one of two iron pillars standing guard at the door and pulls herself up on the front porch.

The scraping hackberry summons the centurion to this house that her husband built when she was a bride of 17 who left her family behind 30 miles away in nearby Mabelle. It was the first time she had left home. Now she stands at the house in Archer City where she spent half a lifetime…

Read more of Nevins’ The Wind is Changing>

You may also read Annette’s narrative about Lona in Walking with Lona>

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3 thoughts on “On Becoming a Writer

  1. Funny how Tom and others who have been through the Archer City experience start to talk about it almost in religious terms. It IS a kind of secular church George and his students have created out here in wilderness, under the benediction of the perpetual stoplight.
    It begins with a pilgrimage, up from the Mayborn. Everybody weary, worn, wasted, in need of some kind of renewal. It unfolds with the Mystery Rite, the baptism in beer, the testifying from the altar of the pickup truck under what Tom calls “the amazement of stars.” A public confession that one has, perhaps, wandered, strayed, and that one is in need of direction.
    A few nights later there is the necessary encounter with the Prophetess of Archer City, from whom nothing can be hidden. And all his time the virtue of honesty — the only virtue really necessary to the writing life — slowly takes possession of the soul.
    The Church of Archer City, then. It has in Larry McMurtry its founder. It has its sacred places, the Dairy Queen, where the founder is said to have communed with the spirit of Walter Benjamin. The Spur of inspiration with its table of sacred books, to be interpreted and argued about. And George is its apostle, carrying the good news to the gentiles, those of us not born here but who got here as soon as we could, that Yes, if we learn to be truly honest with ourselves, with each other, with our readers, we can be writers.

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