Yesterday, I had the honor of leading a writing workshop for the mentees and mentors in an exciting employee development program known as “Believe and Achieve” at the N.C. Office of the State Controller. I did so at the request of my own lifelong mentor, Sherri Creech Johnson, who directs communications for that department. It felt like old times when I also reconnected with David McCoy, the State Controller and former Secretary at the Department of Transportation, where I used to work.
David and I are pictured here with Angela Barrett, program participant and winner of the Writer’s Tool Kit, which includes the famous writing and style guide written by William Shrunk and E.B. White, along with other necessary items such as pencils, post-it-notes, and a very big eraser!
The kit also includes a coffee mug embellished with the names of some of my favorite literary classics such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and 1984. (And of course, it also included some chocolate!)
Angela won the Writer’s Tool Kit in a random drawing but she was also a star participant at the workshop. As part of our writing exercise, in just 10 minutes, she and her partner somehow managed to compose an elegant first paragraph that stressed the who, what, when, where and why of a hypothetical office renovation! Hats off to Angela and all the outstanding folks who so graciously honored me with their time yesterday. I write for a living but it’s far more than a vocation for me, so it is always a delight to spend time talking with others who share my enthusiasm.
Our workshop was titled One True Sentence: Ten Tips for Writing Fearlessly. It’s based on a quote from Ernest Hemingway, who once wrote: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So we talked about the idea that if you start with one true sentence, you’d be surprised how quickly the next sentence will come…and then the next…and so forth. We also covered some very common grammar quandaries and the importance of organization and reading.
Not surprisingly, we spent some time discussing the intangibles involved in fearless writing. These included having confidence in yourself, finding a hero, and working with others to collaborate and revise. As I’ve often reflected, writing can be a solitary journey, but it doesn’t have to be! This point was reinforced by my delightful “reunion” with Sherri, David, and Julie Batchelor (Deputy State Controller and yet another NCDOT alum).
I don’t have the opportunity to see Sherri as much as I’d like but it’s amazing how quickly we caught up. And even though she didn’t know that I would be mentioning E.B. White (that splendid essayist and the author of Charlotte’s Web), she closed the workshop with a quote from the same man that magically summed up the day. With these words, I’ll close too, hoping that any writing you do connects you with old friends and ends up making the world a better place.
“It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”– E.B. White