Robin Black speaks to the crowd about the struggles she faced while writing her debut novel, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This.
Robin Black speaks to the crowd about the struggles she faced while writing her debut novel, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This.

Wait, There Are Paper Extensions in The Real World?

The week was long and busy. Come Friday night, I just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep until Monday. But, deep down I knew that attending events like Arcadia University’s Visiting Writers Series was a good investment for my future as a writer. What better way to develop my craft than to get the inside scoop from other writers about their own writing processes? So there I was, at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night, seated in the Mirror Room of Gray Towers Castle with my fellow audience members.

Some were clearly students, with their pens poised and a legal pad balanced on their jean-clad legs. Others were professors, a categorization I gleaned after overhearing their collective desire to get in a car, drive home, and put an end to this very long workday. In their hands were Starbucks that had gone cold and car keys ready to go.

I, being of a similarly sleepy disposition, sunk into a chair by the door. But despite the hour, I was keeping an open mind. I was ready to hear about the process of crafting and releasing your work into the world from the author.

Visiting Writers Series

Black read to a full house in Grey Towers Castle.

When Robin Black greeted us and announced the title of her talk was “The Uses of Obsession in Writing Fiction,” I was less than hooked. I assumed I would have to sit through an hours worth of anecdotes concerning addiction and emotional tidal waves and, before I could stop myself, I glanced at the door, planning my escape route in case things strayed too far from craft.

But just then, Robin brought up the fact that she got her start right here at Arcadia when a professor gave her the first teaching job she ever had. My head whipped back around. My eyes were suddenly wide open, the personal connection shocking me awake. I had no clue Robin had been a professor here at Arcadia! That pulled me back. I stopped checking for a clear route to the door and sat up on the edge of my seat.

Robin spoke a little about her book deal with Random House and how, although she signed with them for two books, she actually pulled her second book, telling the publishing juggernaut it wasn’t right.

My jaw hung open. You could do that?!

Random House published Black's second book in July.

Random House published Black’s second book in July 2014.

It’s not like she backed out of the contract completely. In fact, in response to her bold move, Random House issued her a new challenge: to go home and write the best novel she could.

With the world of creative writing, there is so much that is not chiseled in stone. And while that can be liberating, it can also be scary. Because everything can change in a minute, like it did for Robin and Random House, writing as a job often seems terrifying to me, even though it’s what I want to do after I graduate.

Most of the time, there isn’t a branch to drive to each morning or a water cooler stashed in the corner of the office where coworkers gather for short conversations about last night’s episode of The Vampire Diaries. Instead, a writer tends to work without those conventional limitations. If inspiration strikes, the work day can start at eleven o’clock at night in front of the TV with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s on your lap, as you scribble an opening paragraph on the back of your latest American Eagle receipt. And that freedom would be totally liberating, were it not directly related to my paycheck.

But what Robin seemed to be saying was that you shouldn’t be afraid of the freedom being a novelist provides; you should embrace it. Instead of being forced to repeat workday after workday, you are given the rare opportunity to embrace the unknown everyday and, from it, create something completely new.

And, after hearing the tale of Robin Black, the one who valued the quality of her work over the promise of a paycheck, I’m beginning to understand that if you are willing to stand for quality, it seems the writing world will do everything it can to support that decision.

By the end of the talk, I was wide-awake with a renewed passion for writing. As the commuters shuffled slowly out of their chairs, desperate to grab one more cookie to keep them awake during the drive home, I rushed out of the room and back to my dorm, telling myself, “Get out the Ben and Jerry’s. You’ve got some writing to do!”

Photos by Jessica Mallepalle ’17