WGI Board President and mentor Rick Dresser at a beer yoga session during a WGI writing workshop in Bend Oregon with NoVetAlone, dedicated to combating vet suicide.
1. When did you know you were a “writer?”
I started writing fiction in fifth grade. Alan Court was the first male teacher I had and he played softball with the class and took story telling very seriously and had a major influence on my life. I’m glad he stuck around long enough to come out and see some of my plays. I’m hoping someday to remove those quotation marks from “writer.”
2. What was the first story you wrote?
It was called “One Million Dollars in New York.” Some bad dudes had captured me at gunpoint, and, for reasons that no doubt make perfect sense in the story, forced me to spend a million dollars in one day in New York City. I was ten years old and had just made my first trip to NYC. I’m assuming everyone is tremendously interested in everything I did as a child.
3. What kinds of stories are you drawn to and why?
It’s impossible to generalize. But, backed into a corner, I will. I tend to alternate between fiction and nonfiction. Right now, with the world spinning faster and faster toward disaster or redemption or some unsettling combination of the two, I’ve been reading more history. I believe that we are privileged to be living in this hugely consequential moment when everything matters and profound change is possible, as hard and heartbreaking as it sometimes is. We’ve left normal in the rearview and it’s up to us to create something better. If that seems like a tall order, consider the so-called Greatest Generation, who were charged with going off and defeating the Nazis. We are charged with staying home and bingeing on Netflix, and even that seems daunting for some.
4. What inspires you?
Happy hour, Miles Davis, Fenway Park, grilled salmon, mountain biking, driving all night, bank errors in my favor, Evelyn Waugh, Friday Night Lights, snow days, Stoner by John Williams, a progressive cultural revolution, certain dogs and they know who they are, certain writers and they may not know who they are, skating at night, anyone who finally admits I was right all along, Raymond Carver, the end of social distancing, gazpacho, the end of the Electoral College, Jason Isbell, medicinal cannabis, nonmedicinal cannabis, the end of gerrymandering, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, whispers in the dark, screams at a hockey game, The Bill of Rights, bottle rockets, winter camping (in theory), Big Papi, first light on the Palisades across the Mighty Hudson.
5. What is your writing process like?
My writing process changes with every project. What remains the same is a regular, inviolable schedule. Until the storm hit, I was not familiar with the early morning. I’d read about it, I’d heard people talk about it and it certainly sounded intriguing, but hardly worth the effort of actually getting out of bed. Now it’s the best part of the day, at least until cocktails roll around.
I’m lucky enough to have a view of the Hudson. Looking at a body of water every morning is deeply calming, almost enough to offset whatever horror awaits. But that comes later. There are no distractions at 5 AM. There’s just the work and the river. Why didn’t someone tell me sooner?
6. What’s the most surprising thing you have learned from writing?
The surprises come every day. That’s the only reason I do it.
7. What’s the most surprising thing you have learned from mentoring or teaching?
What’s surprising and exciting about mentoring is seeing how often people who have done very little writing can tap into traumatic experiences and find a voice that is powerful and transformative.
8. What is your interesting “writing quirk?”
When I hit a roadblock writing, I used to agonize trying to solve the problem. Now I go out and take a bike ride. Later, before going to bed, I frame the problem in the form of a question. In the morning, there’s often a solution, but hidden in the language of dreams. Deciphering it leads to an organic answer, rather than the forced, logical solution that comes out of sitting at a desk trying to solve it like a math problem.
9. Any advice or tips for anyone struggling with writing?
Do it every day. Don’t judge what you’re doing; there’s no obstacle to writing for any writer whose standards are low enough. Write fast and rewrite slowly. When your first draft could cost you relationships and land you in court, you’re onto something. Write the story you want to read. Never sit in a bar talking about the story you’re going to write. Write what you know, unless what you know is boring, in which case you need to know more. You’re one script away, so you’d better keep at it. No one asked you to become a writer, this is all you. If you make some money, pick up the check.