Norma Watkins grew up in Mississippi and came of age during the civil rights struggles. Her award-winning memoirs, “The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure” and “That Woman from Mississippi” describe the anguish of being a liberal in that troubled time. She studied writing under Eudora Welty and is professor emerita at Miami Dade College, where she held an endowed chair. Her upcoming novel, In Common, follows two women who sacrifice talent, spirit, and wellbeing for love. She lives in northern California with her woodworker husband.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a writer?
Perseverance is the most important lesson I’ve learned as a writer. Perseverance and its sister, patience. I work for years on a book. The one I’m doing a final revision on now began in 2010. I tell myself it doesn’t matter how long I take to get it right, or better, though I am impressed by people who can turn out one a year, and death may catch up with me.
What has been the biggest surprise of your writing life?
I love feedback. I belong to a small writing group and their observations continue to surprise me. We’ve met long enough to be frank with one another. Compliments are nice, but constructive criticism is better. I’ve found, to my surprise, that I assume too much from the reader. I see a scene so clearly in my head; I see the characters as they speak, but frequently neglect to describe what they do physically. Thinking: Can’t the reader tell by what they’re saying? Evidently not.
What metaphor would best describe you as a writer?
During the pandemic, I let my hair go white, which is amazingly liberating. As a writer, I am a white heron, observing patiently, and willing to go deep for tasty morsels.
What’s the best piece of writing advice anyone gave you?
John Dufresne once said: You get three exclamation points in a lifetime (Meaning, your words should express the emotion, not punctuation). I haven’t used an exclamation point since.