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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

Minnesota, a lofty place for writers

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere
 

 

Sometimes I get discouraged. Here it is, January in Minnesota, a state renowned for its beautiful northern climate, and day after day I watch the temperatures shoot up past 32 degrees and the little remaining snow melt away.

 

I waited patiently through those insufferable summer days, enduring those obnoxious evening breezes redolent with the sickly sweet scent of flowers and freshly mowed grass, then winter finally arrives, and what happens? Three good snowfalls, and we have almost nothing to show for it.

 

Last Saturday, feeling glum despite the gray sky and its promise of snow, I had one of those just-what-I-need experiences: I stopped by Open Book on Washington Avenue, home of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Milkweed Editions, and the Loft Literary Center, where there was an open house for writers.

 

Over steaming lattes in the Coffee Gallery one group was passionately debating the stylistic possibilities of the semicolon. A line of writers snaked up the winding staircase, and on the third floor Loft teachers were talking about what they taught in their classes to young writers and old, white writers and writers of color, gay writers and straight writers – it was a marvelous, heart-warming mass of humanity. I felt as exhilarated as I did last year when poet laureate Ted Kooser’s reading caused a traffic jam around Plymouth Congregational Church on Franklin Avenue.

 

Even without two feet of snow, Minnesota is a nice place to be.

 

At Open Book I heard Amy Lindgren describe her class “Exploring a Career in Writing” and its four components: journalism, business writing, technical writing, and publishing. Then Paula Granquist talked about writing and the imagination. She had us draw two figures and connect them with a line. Mine reminded me of a lily pad on the Kawishiwi River in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and it made me think of my father, and then she said, “Now write a story about something that is discarded,” and I thought about how some day the things we love will be taken away.

 

“In one of my classes,” Paula said, “we talk about wildness and restraint,” and there, I thought, is something for the business writer. We could use more wildness in the workplace – more wildness of imagination, creativity of ideas, new ways of thinking, combined with the restraint of common sense, consideration for others, and respect for the traditions that make us who we are.

 

“Now,” she said, “ask yourself why you are the person who should tell that story,” and I thought, if only we could lead our lives – both our personal and our working lives – more aware of the story we are telling, and why we are the ones to tell that story, and how that story is played out in our writing.

 

Outside, my head awhirl with inspiration and new ideas, a snowflake fell and landed on the sidewalk before me. There’s always hope.

 

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