Pamela Allison: Fall 2008 Personal Essay Runner Up

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Congratulations to Pamela Allison, 2008 Fall Personal Essay runner-up! Pamela lives in a historic community near Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate from The University of Georgia and Radford University, she owned and operated a one-woman painting studio for several years until closing shop in 2007. Her first love has always been writing; and in 2008, she completed the rough draft to her first novel. She also has articles, a poem, and illustrations published in magazines. Currently she divides her time between revising her manuscript, spending time with her family, attending classes at a nearby college, and blogging under her pen name at She is also a member of a local writing critique group, Writers of Like Mind.

If you haven't had a chance to read Pamela's winning personal essay, "A Place of My Own," then make sure to check it out.

WOW: Congratulations, Pamela, on your contest win! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. When I read, "A Place of My Own," I fell in love with your writing space. Why does it help you to have a writing space?

PAMELA: I’m a firm believer that productive creativity requires a quiet, private place to work. Distractions totally undermine the creative process. Creating anything requires a good deal of mental energy because it is hard work and long hours. For any person to do their job well, they need to be able to focus and concentrate. A person can’t do it with constant distractions. Now some people can create in a busier coffee house atmosphere, but I am not one of those people. I guard my writing work time fiercely, and my family and friends respect that. And bless them for doing so. Having a place where I can get away from everyone and actually hear my thoughts enables me to do the best work possible.

WOW: You are lucky to have such understanding friends and family--respecting your writing time and space is very important to the creative process--as you said. You have to have time to think and write! For this contest, you had to write a personal essay and adhere to a certain word count. Is it easy for you to write to a prompt and follow a genre and word count or more difficult?

PAMELA: For me, it is easy and a non-issue. I’m a pretty methodical person and have no problem whatsoever following guidelines. I’ve never felt guidelines are an enemy that stifles creativity. Writers create worlds from our minds and execute them into tangible form. We have the power to do anything we want, so if a writer is struggling, maybe the problem isn’t the guidelines, but the writer’s ability to efficiently create within those guidelines. Short word counts help a writer to hone what they want to say, and that’s not a bad thing. A writer who continues to sharpen their skills should eventually be comfortable writing within the spectrum of possibilities. So if I want to write a rambling, thousand page novel, I can. If I want to write a two hundred word essay or a fifteen page short story, I can do that, too. It shouldn’t matter what is set upon us, what matters is our ability to work within it. Limitations, again in my opinion, are illusions when it comes to creativity.

WOW: You put that so well, and I completely agree that writers improve from challenging themselves to write many different kinds of pieces--short and long. From your bio and essay, we know you are working on a novel, so you must like challenging yourself! Why did you enter this contest? Does it help you to write shorter pieces, too? How?

PAMELA: I prefer to juggle a big project with several smaller ones because it keeps me writing and honing my craft. It allows me to change mental gears. If I’ve been working on revisions all week, it’s a nice change of pace to dash out a short story, essay or article. I entered this contest for many reasons. As a new writer, I’m constantly looking for ways to get my work out there and in front of people. Contests give more immediate feedback. Feedback is critical, even if it’s negative. In my mind, there is no such thing as negative feedback because everything is an opportunity to learn and look at things from a different perspective. Winning prizes is not the reason I enter contests at all, but of course, it is a nice surprise if that happens. What matters is writing, putting my work in front of people, building a platform, getting feedback, and learning from the experience. Plus, you never know who will like your work and want to know more. So it is a wonderful way to potentially network. The experience of placing in the top ten has been wonderful, and I plan to enter more contests in the future.

WOW: I want to repeat for emphasis something you said in your answer that I think we can all learn from:"There is no such thing as negative feedback because everything is an opportunity to learn and look at things from a different perspective." So true! You had a “past life” as a painter. Do you feel your background as an artist helps you with your description when you are writing?

PAMELA: Absolutely. I’ll always be an artist, even if I’m no longer painting. My artistic nature has simply taken a different form. I’m a visual thinker, so while writing I see vivid scenes in my head. It is akin to watching a movie in my mind. My job is to write down what I see and hear in the best way possible, so that future readers will get caught up in the story and be emotionally moved. Setting and descriptions can be magical if they create powerful images. My background as an artist makes it easy for me to switch into that visualization mode. I can write for hours on end, and it feels like twenty minutes. I have had entire afternoons go by where I plugged in and didn’t realize the moon was up until I stopped and looked out the window.

WOW: That's amazing, and what I call "being in the zone!" Can you give us a little glimpse into your novel? Short summary?

PAMELA: Following Stephen King’s advice from his book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, I am not talking about the novel until the first revisions are completed, and my beta readers give the first wave of feedback. So I’m closely guarded about it. It’s just not ready to be discussed or shared yet, because it is still a work in progress. That’s a concept that makes sense to me. Why unveil anything until it’s ready to be experienced in its completeness? But I will say that I love all things supernatural. I am fascinated by the paranormal and have been since I was a kid. I believe there is a science to it we don’t fully understand, and I also believe that ghosts are simply people with stories to tell. My first degree is in cultural anthropology, and I love learning how other cultures view the world, the afterlife and spirits. As a writer, the bottom line is I want to know about people. Why they do the things they do, what makes them tick, what drives behavior. Why some people are cruel and some benevolent. I’m not afraid to peer under rocks, so to speak, and explore things we don’t always like to talk about in polite company. I’m a firm follower of character-driven stories. So my novel is first and foremost about my characters, and the supernatural events that unfold and challenge them on deeply personal levels.

WOW: I love Stephen King's book you mentioned, and I agree that following any of his writing advice is a good idea! But just from the little you did tell us about your beliefs and what you like to explore while you write, I can tell your novel will be very intriguing! Your bio also mentioned that you are in a critique group. How does your critique group work? What are the benefits of belonging to a critique group?

PAMELA: The hardest part is finding a group that understands what comprises a useful critique. Legitimate critiques speak the language of a writer and put it in a publishing world context. Not everyone is qualified to give a critique, which is why some new writers get frustrated because they take everything to heart. It comes back to discerning the source. Just because a person says something, doesn’t mean it is true. It might be, but over time a writer will learn to filter feedback and discard what is useless and keep anything that helps hone their craft. Saying something is good or that you liked it is meaningless. Tell me why you liked it; and if something didn’t work, why you felt it didn’t work. Or if something sparkles, talk about that, too. Be specific and offer alternatives for improvement. Ideally, critique groups should accommodate the hobbyist writer and the career seeking writer with insightful dialogue. Writing, like painting, can be terribly isolating, so it is good to be around like-minded people who have similar goals. Sometimes feedback is negative; but if it is honest, it helps a writer to grow a thick skin and learn. It’s a good way to get comfortable hearing other viewpoints. Joining a group shouldn’t be about ego or surrounding yourself with yes men. You won’t learn anything if everyone pretends you are the best thing since sliced bread because they’re too timid to speak candidly. What I like about my group is that it is focused and honest. We start promptly and get down to business, and at the end, we socialize a bit. We also talk about news on the publishing front, and that is a great way to share information. I’ve learned a good deal and have made good friends.

WOW: Thank you for sharing information about your critique group with us, Pamela, as well as everything else you told us today. Your interview has been very insightful and interesting! Good luck to you with your novel and the rest of your writing career.

Interview by: Margo L. Dill,, Read These Books and Use Them! (blog)


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