Letter to a New Narrator

20 Oct, 2011

by Stacie Williams

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As the proverbial pen is about to passed to the next Pfister Narrator, recently chosen through hours and hours of deliberation by a committee of writers, editors, marketers and businessfolk, and soon to be announced, I wanted to pass the pen not only to my successor, but also extend it to those who didn’t get selected or who have yet to apply.

Dear New Narrator,

So it begins: your quest to write about the people, events, and moments that occur within the historic Pfister Hotel.  Where else can you walk the same floors tread by every U.S. President since McKinley and also play a round of Jenga with visiting businessmen?  The vibrant scenes and people of today meld with the ever-present ghosts of the past in a way unmatched by most other places.  It’s all the creative juice any writer could possibly need or want!

However, the excitement and anticipation can be overwhelming, or perhaps there is an underlying uncertainty about how to approach this novel opportunity.  I would, therefore, like to offer you some thoughts about the position, as I near the end of my own six month tenure watching, listening, talking, laughing and writing.  “So I’ve devised a sort of Ten Commandments that are the result of some of my own struggles with this blessed occupation,”*

1.  Be prepared.  You saw the call for Narrator applications.  You read the description of this grand hotel’s search for someone to hang out at the hotel, talk to people, and write about it all.  It sounded exciting!  You talk to people all the time!  You write and you’re good at it!  Before you do apply, here are a few suggestions:

  • Read the blog posts, comment, engage in the discussion with the current narrator and other commenters.  You will find yourself getting to know the hotel and its guests so that when you do put your foot on those marble steps, you’ll already feel as if you belong.
  • Drop in.  Pass through.  Comfort and familiarity breeds confidence.  Experience leads to clarity and a unique view.
  • Tailor your writing samples.  If you’ve been reading the posts, you’ll get a feel for what the position requires, even if your own voice and approach differs from the current narrator.  This allows you to cultivate a writing sample that stands as not only your best work, but which is then representative of the work you intend to do.
  • Reapply.  If you didn’t get selected, and you really want it, try and try again.  The next narrator applied three times!

2.  Eavesdrop.  That couple over there that’s arguing with great animation?  It could be they’re engaging in a philosophical discussion, or it’s something personal and human that can remind you of the greater connectivity we have beneath surface appearances.

3.  Don’t interrupt.  Listen carefully, take notes, write down everything.  Don’t engage a guest who’s getting tips from the concierge.  Let the bartender make his or her expert recommendation.

4.  Interrupt.  Ask questions!  Leap into the fray, crack a joke with the group of laughing guests at your elbow.  Offer a recommendation!

5.  Know when to do both.

6.  Befriend the staff.  They are the Pfister’s lifeblood.  They will give you the best connections, insight and -yes- gossip.  They will help you feel at home.  They will welcome you with open arms, make suggestions and refer you to the intriguing characters they have also recently met.  They know the hotel, the guests, the city and their knowledge will enrich everything you write.

7.  Read and re-read.  Go back and read what the previous narrators wrote about: you may find you don’t want to repeat something, or you’ll find a different angle, take or perspective that only adds to the nuance of a topic.  Read your own posts out loud to yourself before publishing them.  Re-read them.  Edit with consideration and care, but don’t be anxious.  You want the posts to reflect a real person’s voice, view, and experience.  Read the comments.  Reply right away.

8.  Take lots of pictures.  They may inspire your imagination, or remind you of something, when you most need it.

9.  Be honest, but be discreet.  Don’t direct the conversations you engage in – with the staff or the guests.  Let the conversations happen.  But inquire, probe and reach; connect with your own stories and experiences in a way that will lead them to open up further, deeper.  Respect the “off the record” statements, but don’t rule them out.  Understand that there will be things you see and hear that you cannot write, but which will give you a fuller character, a better sense of the truth beneath what you will write.

10.  “As for the rest, let life happen to you.  Believe me: life is always right.”**

 

With thanks to *Richard Bausch’s Letter to a Young Writer and **Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet .

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  • http://pamwrites.net Pam Parker

    Thank you for this excellent post, Stacie! I wonder if you were doing this position at the same time I saw you at Boswells for Alan Heathcock’s talk. What an exciting life you have! Maybe I’ll see you at AWP next week.

About the author

Stacie Williams

With a love of stories and storytelling, Stacie Williams has worked at a local Milwaukee bookstore for six years, and has experience in travel writing and blogging. In 1998, she moved from California to study theater at University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, and stayed.

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