Interview Across a Breakfast Table: How Has Being a Writer Changed You?

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I hope you’ve been reading the answers that my wife, Jennifer Ziegler, has been posting in response to my questions to her about shifting to a younger audience and being married to a member of one’s critique group.

Another week brings another round of questions, and so while Jenny answers mine (“Do you ever think about what your characters read?”), I’ll answer hers:

Jenny: How has being a writer changed you?

Me: I could answer this in several ways. Such as:

“Not at all. Why, I can still fit into the ‘do rag I wore in college.”

Or maybe:

“Changed me from what? I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember.”

But seriously, folks — I mean, dear — I think it’s interesting how being a writer has changed me compared to what I thought I was going to be: an editor.

I approached the end of my college career all set to be a magazine editor. No, not just an editor, but a famous one. And not just a famous editor, but a famous magazine founder, visionary, mover and shaker, etc.

The problem was, I had hardly any sense of who my audience would be, or what my magazine(s) would communicate to those readers, or what would be the basis of my relationship with them. My plans had everything to do with my admiration for the achievements of Willie Morris at Harper’s and Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone and nothing to do with what I had to say or to whom.

My interest in editing faded, and after an aimless period of a few years, I hit upon the realization that I wanted to write books for young readers. Specifically, I was inspired to write a particular story for a particular kid — my toddler son — but that established the template for my work that continues to this day. As a writer, I have a much more instinctive sense of what it is I want to say and who I’ll be saying it to.

That’s the big change from Potential Editor Chris to Actual Writer Chris: My work is as much about appealing to the interests and experiences of my readers as it is about appealing my own, and I’ve got a meaningful relationship with that audience to show for it.

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