English Festival Forum Recap
Writers share advice and humor during Bluffton’s 34th annual English Festival
Authors Andrew Hudgins and Erin McGraw answered questions, inspired minds and offered practical advice for young people who are serious about pursuing writing as a profession during Bluffton University’s 34th annual English Festival held on campus.
Advice included: “If you wait to be inspired you’ll die waiting,” from Hudgins and, “Writing something stupid is better than writing nothing. Get going and make it better later,” from McGraw.
The married couple and emeritus professors of English from The Ohio State University shared “Being Smarter than You Are: A Conversation with Two Writers about Writing” during Bluffton’s weekly Forum series. Because of their unique status, they are often peppered with questions such as: “What’s it like living in a two-writer household?” and “Do you read the same books?” or “What do you do about writer’s block?”
“Usually poets and fiction writers don’t communicate very well,” McGraw, the novelist, joked. Hudgins is the poet in the family, and while they have different styles of writing, they shared that they always read each other’s work and provide constructive feedback before sending it off.
Their differing opinions, answers and writing styles were also an example that there is not one right way to be a writer.
For example, McGraw is an early riser who writes prose first thing in the morning. Hudgins, on the other hand, is a late riser who prefers to hone is creativity late into the night.
“We own separate parts of the day,” explained McGraw. “It’s very helpful as a writer to wander around or hunker down knowing nobody is going to bother you.”
While both are voracious readers (something they urged the young writers to be as well), they rarely read the same material. Hudgins is currently reading about ancient history while McGraw has been drawn to sociology texts and books about obscure pockets and American culture.
They urged students to first and foremost read what they are interested in writing to improve their skills but to not limit themselves to only that style. The pair also acknowledged that some people have the temperament for a certain forms of writing over another. For example, prose was likened to long-distance running because completing a novel can take years while writing poetry was compared to running sprints.
As for advice, the couple told the young writers to make space for writing in their everyday lives because it is easy to complete other tasks while pushing off writing for another day.
They also cautioned students against the little voices that often fill their heads. “What you really need to succeed is a back and forth dialogue,” said Hudgins. “One side saying, ‘This is the greatest thing anyone has ever written’ and the other saying, ‘This is the stupidest thing anyone has ever thought of.’ One voice is necessary to get something going. The other voice is the one you need to make your writing better.”
However, McGraw reminded the crowd that both voices are wrong. “Most of us, I’m pretty sure, are not better than Dante and most of us are not complete, raving idiots, but when it’s just you and the English language, it’s an awfully vulnerable place to be.”
Along with Bluffton’s students, more than 50 high school students spent the day on campus for the English Festival which also included workshops led by the featured authors, faculty and Bluffton students. High school writers, who have been published in Bluffton’s Literary Journal “Bridge” also had the opportunity to share their work.
Most of us, I’m pretty sure, are not better than Dante and most of us are not complete, raving idiots, but when it’s just you and the English language, it’s an awfully vulnerable place to be.”