A Treasure Trove of Information
By Jennifer Nelson, WTP Feature Writer
Meredith Sue Willis’s website is packed with information about writing and teaching, her life as a prolific writer, and resources to craft a marketable book. She splashes her website with images of her book covers, family photos, and other authors. She provides links to articles about publishing, to writing exercises, blogs, grammar questions, and literature. As I clicked on different sections of her website, I found myself thinking how much I could learn by following some of her advice. What could I add to my website to make it more engaging? How could I redesign it so viewers would want to return to it?
Her website also details the numerous publishers, including Charles Scribner’s Sons, HarperCollins, and Ohio University Press, who have published her books. She’s published novels, short stories, children’s books, and books on writing, all which can be purchased from her site. Her work has been praised by The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She has been the recipient of literary fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, as well as the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award and the West Virginia Library Association Award.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Willis lives in New Jersey. Like me, she wasn’t born here. She was raised in West Virginia, the Appalachian Mountains part of her upbringing. But in New Jersey now, she’s active in her local Ethical Culture Society and South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race. In her backyard, she does organic gardening. She teaches at New York University and occasionally conducts writer-in-the-school residencies and workshops for writers.
Willis also offers writing prompts, a course syllabus from her NYU novel writing class, and a detailed description of online writing workshops. She includes links to magazines such as Poets & Writers that lists job opportunities for writers and editors, and literature to read in different genres. It wasn’t difficult to find reviews of different MFA programs and writing conferences to attend—if I’d been interested. For me, I ended up making a list of books I intend to read this summer to become a better writer.
High up on her website were two gems: one, a list of writing groups listed by state. In New Jersey, I found the Princeton Writing Group that welcomes new members who wanted to write for a few hours at a local café, and I’ve already signed up. The other is an article by Tom McAllister, where he recounts his difficulties selling his books at library and bookstore readings: his friends often cancelled at that last minute, and busloads of people often failed to materialize. It’s not uncommon for only a handful of books to be sold at any event, but McAllister gives us hope. Someone unexpectedly may show up for a reading, a former teacher or classmate. And outside of the readings, he does receive heartfelt comments from readers who appreciate his books. Overall, he says, writing enriches his life, so he’ll continue this journey.
Thanks to Willis’s website, I’m more aware of the realities of getting a book published, marketing it, and selling it. I have found leads on how to connect with other writers, and where to go for ideas on how to start an online writing class. I’ve been directed to websites that could help me find a part-time or full-time writing job. Other resources include obituaries of writers, new essays and books to read, and critiques of writing conferences. I felt I have struck a treasure trove of information, and I’m sure I’ll return to her site to see what new articles or tidbits she’s posted.
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