300 Words With Tim Wendel
“300 Words With…” is a new, semi-regular feature on my blog, in which I interview people I admire, especially those who exemplify the spirit of living in more than one world. The featured person today is Tim Wendel, who is the author of eight books, writes for a number of great publications and teaches fiction and nonfiction writing at Johns Hopkins University. I’ve known Tim since our days as colleagues at USA TODAY.
1. You have quite a varied career; writing and teaching both fiction and nonfiction. Do these activities require different mindsets and mental/emotional adjustments?
The line is much finer than some would think. The key to any quality narrative, fiction or nonfiction, often hinges upon characters, setting, plot, etc. Certainly nonfiction pieces require more attention to detail and truth. That’s why I always fact-check those stories. Still, Joseph Conrad was once asked what the key was to quality writing. His reply? “If I can make you see.” In essence, the scenes or people I have in my mind I offer to you through my writing. When it works we’re dreaming the same dream, in a way. That’s when the writing becomes so enthralling that you miss your subway stop or you stay up past your bedtime, still reading away. That only happens with great characters and memorable situations, regardless of what form we’re working in.
2. Since the earliest days when you added being an author to your work in journalism, how has your life changed, in a day-to-day sense and otherwise?
I used to write much more at night. I think raising two kids drove that out of me. Now I’m older and I find my best time to write is in the morning. I’ll have a quick bite to eat and then start working. When you’re working on a longer work, you need to focus on it a little bit each day. If not, the characters or concerns don’t rattle around in your head enough. At least not for me. Finding the time can be a concern. I wrote my first novel, Castro’s Curveball, on the D.C. Metro [subway]. That’s all the time I had back then, but it all adds up if you stay with it.
3. What non-work/non-writing activities do you find particularly meaningful in your life?
Now that I’m in my 50s, I realize how important it is to stay in shape. I run with a local group most Friday mornings. I also do other classes, as much for the friendship as the fitness. Writing can be a lonely occupation, so we need to find people we can talk things out with. I’ve been meditating and I’ve read a lot of spiritual texts, everything from Gnostic Gospels to Joseph Campbell. And, finally, family is important to me. I never expected to learn as much from raising my two kids as I have. It made me vulnerable and open in a way that I didn’t expect. Which made me a better writer and perhaps a person more receptive to the world in general.