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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Margaret Porter

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? I’ve been writing–stories, plays, poems–since childhood, so I can hardly envision not being a writer. It is an essential part of my existence. I’ve always felt highly privileged to be a published writer in a variety of literary forms. It’s equally humbling. Because writers have the opportunity–and even, perhaps, at times–a responsibility to reflect our world as it has been, as it is now, as it could be. Through the literary arts, we can entertain, educate, inspire, amuse, enlighten, motivate, analyze, forewarn. The power of words is immense. I know this not only as an author, but as a reader, seeking solace or distraction or knowledge or inspiration through the talents of others. Although I’ve written professionally for several types of media, I’m primarily an author of fiction. Mostly, but not exclusively, historical fiction. And in this strange time of living through a global pandemic, and so much domestic and international unrest, I’m more keenly aware of my need to escape into fictional worlds, as creator and as consumer. Technologies enable us to access literature and journalism through multiple formats. With expanded reach and readership, the power and importance of this vocation seems greater than ever before.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? First of all, I try and determine the reason I feel blocked. If my schedule is full, my brain sometimes tries to fill writing time with processing all the other things that might be going on. Sometimes reading a book–research for a work-in-progress, perhaps, or a friend’s latest release–serves as a circuit breaker. Reading good or interesting writing often sparks the desire to resume doing it myself, or points out ways of improving my own efforts. Walking the dog inevitably becomes intensely meditative time, and my wandering mind will usually land on a scene I’ve written, or need to write. Or a solution to a character problem will pop into my head. Weeding the garden works, too. If I’m going to be blocked–and it never lasts terribly long–I might as well do something constructive! I’m very visual, creatively, so I can jump-start the imagination by examining portraits or photographs of my characters or images of the story’s setting, or sketching a reference map of the location. These are methods that have worked for me, certainly not the only ones, and I know other authors who do similar things.

What is your favorite time to write? The short answer is, “anytime.” Essentially, if I’m awake and moderately alert, it’s writing time. In early stages of a new project, I will work from late morning, after dealing with emails or phone calls, to mid-afternoon. At that point, I’ll take a break for my daily workout or to walk the dog. After supper, I generally read or watch television with my husband. During the editing and revision stage, which is my most favorite part of the process, there is no “off time”–I’m completely absorbed morning, noon, and night. However, I do try and stop a little before bedtime, in hopes that I can short-circuit the creative impetus enough to sleep well. Closing in on deadline, there are no boundaries at all! And strangely, that feverish intensity has its own appeal.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Finish the book. (Or poem…essay…or script.) There is no feeling that compares to the joy and satisfaction of accomplishment. Whether or not the work is in a polished or perfected state, whatever that means to the individual, it’s tangible proof of perseverance and determination. That is a writer’s very first success with any project. Whenever I’m asked “How many books have you written?” I think in terms of publication, and currently answer, “Fourteen.” When I do that, I’m eliminating the completed early manuscripts that languish in a box in our storage room. Retrospectively, I regard them as additional proofs of success, however lame or lacking they might seem to me now. I learned something by creating each one, I improved as a writer because of them. They showed me that finishing is its own reward, even if they never make it into print. Which they most definitely will not–and should not!

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? Nowadays, more than in any other time, a writer has numerous means of achieving publication goals, for sharing our creations with readers, and for publicizing them. We have so many online opportunities to learn our craft as well as develop necessary new skills–through seminars and webinars offered by the Authors Guild and other organizations and networks. There’s an ever-growing spectrum of platforms through which to publish, and past stigmas or prejudices are rapidly fading in the eyes of the writer, the reader, and even the industry. The traditional model remains strong, even as independent or boutique publishers and reputable hybrid publishers and well-regarded author-publishers are proliferating. We have print books, ebooks, audiobooks, online serialization. Technology has erased geographical boundaries and enables access to archives and reference collections and other resources and sources, no plane ticket or passport necessary. We have the ability to promote our works on social media, in blog posts, podcasts, videos. With digital files, the editing process is less arduous for all involved. These possibilities can seem overwhelming. But because writers have options that didn’t exist in prior years and decades and centuries, we can be thankful. And very excited!

Margaret Porter’s The Limits of Limelight is out now with Gallica Press.