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2021 Jan

Lauran Strait: The Craft of Writing

Encouraging other writers is what drives this community-minded wordsmith.

Local writer Lauran Strait has taught various writing classes, including three popular and long-standing writer workshops at the Adult Learning Center in Virginia Beach. She stopped teaching in order to found Hampton Roads Writers, a local non-profit organization connecting, encouraging, and educating writers of all ages, talents, and genres. As HRW’s administrative executive, president of the board of directors, and 2009 - 2015 conference director, Lauran shares a few thoughts about the craft of writing.

TW: Why is creative writing important today?
LS: The global pandemic has left many of us feeling overwhelmingly sad and powerless. Creative writing, including journaling, gives us a safe outlet for self-expression. Writing allows us to experiment and create, helping bring order to the complex world around us. It gives us the freedom to take charge of something that is ours alone.

TW: Tell us about your background: where you were raised, went to school, career, family, etc.
LS: Whenever I’m asked where I’m from, I usually offer the cryptic answer of “everywhere and nowhere.” Born into a military family, I moved eight times before I married a Naval officer. I’ve moved eight times since then but have lived in this area so long that Virginia Beach finally feels like home.

My husband and I met in the tenth grade. We married about seven years later, after we’d graduated from the University of Maryland. We celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary this January and have three grown children and one grandchild.

For several years, I taught creative writing classes in Virginia Beach at the Adult Writing Center and ran three year-round writer workshops. Then several of my students helped me create a nonprofit writing organization, Hampton Road Writers, in 2008.

Over the years, I’ve served on many local nonprofit boards and have been the president of the Board of Directors for HRW as well its acting executive director since 2008. I’ve also edited for four literary magazines and have freelance-edited hundreds of novels.

TW: How did you come to be interested in writing? What is your preferred genre? Why?
LS: I never knew a time when I didn’t enjoy creating stories, characters, worlds, etc. Only other writers can understand the driving force that compels us to create with words. Writing chose me, not the other way around. Yet, being chosen can make for a lonely life. If you’re a writer, you know what I mean.

That was especially true for me during the early eighties. I was no longer in school and my network of school writer friends had disappeared. I was a Navy wife with two young boys. When I had free time—a rare commodity in those days—I wrote vignettes and character sketches. After filling up several legal pads with my scribblings, I decided that I was going to write a novel. By the mid-nineties I’d completed three.

I’ve always been drawn to thrillers when I read, so, when I decided to write my first novel, it was a horror thriller. My next few books also were thrillers, though the second one involved a chat room murder and the third was about aliens/angels on Earth.

TW: How has your writing evolved since you first began?
LS: After I wrote my first novel, I was certain that it would be traditionally published and that I would become rich and famous. A million rejections letters later, most of which said, “Sorry, not for me,” I realized that I didn’t have a clue about what it took to create publication-worthy novels. Sure, my plots were thrilling, my characters realistic, and each story seemed to have complete narrative and character arcs, but obviously something else was off.

That something else turned out to be too much telling; stilted dialogue; uneven pacing; superfluous characters; overwriting; etc. You name the writing error, I’d made it. Fortunately, I found writing classes and numerous books on writing craft. I also made myself read outside of my preferred genre so I could figure out the different conventions used in each. Basically, I had to do it on my own and, let me tell you, it was tough!

My learning curve could have been drastically shortened had a group like the Hampton Roads Writers existed back then. While it’s true that, as the bumper stickers proclaim, “Writers do it alone,” most of us find it more satisfying and ultimately more rewarding to do it connected with and surrounded by other writers.

TW: How has the current pandemic affected your craft?
LS: Very little has changed with regard to my own craft. However, the pandemic has changed how HRW conducts its business. Our board meetings, classes, workshops, open mics, and happy hours (we call them our Quarantini Social Hour) have moved from in-person to online via Zoom. Our annual 3-day writers conference was shortened to a one-day webinar consisting of one keynote speaker and 10 one-hour workshops.

TW: As a president of Hampton Roads Writers, what would you say are the top three benefits to joining a writing group like HRW?
LS: One: Access to classes that teach and reinforce writing skills. Two: Access to networking events with publishing professionals and well-published authors. Three: Access to like-minded people and camaraderie that evolves from the formation of critique groups and other social gatherings with writers.

TW: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
LS: I often say, “Writers write and non-writers just talk about writing.” So if you want to be a writer, simply sit down and write. And keep at it, day after day. The more you practice, the better your writing will become.

I’m of the mind that good writers aren’t born that way. Good writers develop over time and put in the effort to learn and hone their skills. Good writers approach writing not like something that can be attended to here and there when the mood strikes. Rather, good writers embrace every opportunity to write and rewrite and learn.

If you attend writing workshops, conferences, and classes on a regular basis, if you read for pleasure as often as you can, and if you continue to write nearly every day, even if only for a few minutes, you will become a greater writer than you are now.

And if your ultimate writing goal is to see your work in print, never underestimate the value of networking with writing professionals. The writing industry is ever changing, ever evolving. Networking with people in the industry helps you keep abreast of the trends and it might just lead to a lucky break that results in the publication of your work.

TW: Are you working on a book currently? If so, what’s it about?  
LS: About the only things I have time to write these days are emails and TO DO lists. Occasionally I open files of old, partially written stories. I polish here, delete a word or sentence there, but never seem to add more to the story. I wish I had the time and freedom to write like I once did.  But administering Hampton Roads Writers takes all my energy. In the end, having a well-functioning HRW is a lot more important than anything I might ever write.
 
TW: What are you reading these days? Any recommendations? 
LS: I have fallen in love with Urban Dystopian thrillers revolving around worldwide pandemics and pre- and post-apocalyptic worlds. Weird, I know, considering what’s happening in the world today. I recently finished Nancy Isaak’s 365 Days Alone quadrilogy. I highly recommend the series. It’s YA Fantasy at its best!
 
TW: Feel free to add anything else our readers might be interested to learn about you. 
LS: I love spending time with writers and it’s something I’ve had the honor and pleasure of doing for more than twenty years. I get tremendous pleasure from helping, encouraging, and inspiring them, whether they need guidance in starting writing projects, instruction to grow in their craft, or encouragement to help them remain steadfast in their will to see a project to fruition.

Thirteen years since its inception, HRW has grown in ways that make me proud. Critique groups have sprung up with HRW’s help. Some of our members have found agents and/or publishers. We’ve presented hundreds of events geared to benefit writers, including Traveling Pen Writers workshops, Open Mics, Show and Grow your Prose with Professional Critique events, Author Meet and Greets, Authorfests, children’s Poetry Explosions, and, of course, our annual, multi-day writers conference that attracts writers from all over the world.

For the past two years, The Writer, a national writer’s magazine, named HRW’s conference as the best in Virginia. All of this brings me the great satisfaction of knowing that I’ve created something bigger than myself, something that has been and will continue to be of benefit to our local literary arts community long after I am gone.
 
For more information about HRW, visit www.hamptonroadswriters.org.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and publisher of Tidewater Family Plus magazine. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com

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