Writer 2 Writer: Ditties from Robin Queen’s Discussion at Literati (03/22/16)

Robin Queen delights the audience with tales of writing, sheep dogs, and rural Arkansas.
Robin Queen delights the audience with tales of writing, sheep dogs, and rural Arkansas.

You know how you come across someone’s face often enough that that person becomes familiar to you? Like you’re liable to say, “Hey, I know him/her from somewhere,” the next time you see them?

That is exactly what didn’t happen when I first walked up to the second floor of Literati on East Washington and saw Robin Queen for the first time, live and in-person. True, I had been seeing her face plastered on numerous emails advertising the discussion she was going to be a part of in late March, but she actually looked familiar to me because she reminds me of a boss I once had at a fast food restaurant I spent three months at (which, believe me, is more than long enough to be working at a fast food restaurant).

Odd little anecdote (appropriate terminology?) aside, Robin had lots of shiny nuggets of wisdom to share about the writing process. As I sat in the back of the room munching on my side salad from Pieology, she discussed her general approach to writing and revealed some early drafting of her latest book Vox Popular: The Surprising Life of Language in the Media.

Robin said she enjoys writing because it is like a conversation. When I heard her say this, I thought immediately back to what Stephen King says in On Writing, that writing is like a telepathic meeting of the minds. Robin also mentioned how that conversation can be difficult, especially when you’re trying to explain scientific concepts to non-academics. There is a danger, she says, in shutting these readers out if the language is too inaccessible (or, this is the gist of what she said, anyway).

To approach the writing of Vox Popular then, which is addressed to lay people, Robin pictured certain people that she knew when producing the book, knowing if those certain individuals were to come across a word like “ostensibly”, they would be apt to put the book down and say, “I’ll have no more of this, thank you.” Directing writing at a certain person (or persons) is something I may want to try; interesting concept anyway.

I identified with the struggles Robin mentioned, how actually getting into the mode of writing is not necessarily easy. She said sometimes it takes a considerable amount of “your brain puking words onto the page” before you get anything useful. When she called the blank page a daunting thing to approach — likely to make you pull up the Facebook app on your phone instead of tackling it — I thought, “Amen to that, sister.”

The fact that Robin is a linguist made her discussion all that much more interesting. I like to play with language and have a grand ole time, and so her field, which, as she described, seeks to study what it is we know when we know a language, actually sounds like something I would have enjoyed studying whilst an undergraduate at this proud institution of higher learning. (That was not sarcastic, believe it or not; maybe a little pompous though.)

The last ditty I’d like to mention is that I enjoyed the description of the way she teaches writing: she said she has somewhat gotten away from assigning students academic pieces and has focused more recently on reflective writing. Reflective writing seems to be, honestly, where my best kind of writing comes through, and so I could appreciate this approach.

Robin may or may not have convinced me to buy a copy of her book. Just as with the Great Tootsie Pop Conundrum, the world may never know.

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