"Bad writers become historians," David said to me when I shared my experience of reading local history books during my travels. I suppose this means that good writers create comedic nonfiction works of art like "Olympia". I was so thrilled to be able to meet with David Scherer Water in Olympia after reading his book by the same name. We had an enthralling conversation over breakfast at King Solomon's Reef where he sat and wrote most of the book. We talked about Olympia, writing, culture, history, and life.
David grew up in Edison, NJ1 and spent the last 25 years living in Olympia, WA. He has a unique perspective on the place and has watched it grow and become what it is today over the years. Olympia is a truly unique and interesting place that gives folks a lot to write about. He told me that he wrote quite a bit more for the book, but the published work only contains things that are interesting and unique. He does a great job answering the "so what?" in all of his published writing which is a skill that I have yet to learn2.
I asked him about his writing style and any advice that he might have for aspiring writers. He told me that he was a fan of writing in public. He also mentioned that he never really participated in any sort of workshops. However, he did tell me about an activity that he did where he would sit in public with a typewriter and continuously write without stopping for an hour while people sat nearby and channeled their energy. He describes this technique as developing the ability to use language without your active brain. I imagine that some weird, confusing, interesting, and fascinating things can come out on paper after this sort of exercise.
We talked about writing about history. When it comes to approaching difficult topics such as slavery and the plight of Native Americans he suggests not writing from a place of guilt and shame. Instead, we should understand the fundamental truths about our history and encourage people to keep this in mind as we make small and large decisions that will impact the way that people in the future will look at our own behavior. I asked about the "comedic nonfiction" approach and He mentioned Sarah Vowell as one of the pioneers of this style. I have not heard of her work, but am looking forward to reading it for myself.
I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend my Birthday breakfast. I want to give a whole hearted thank you to David for spending time with me and my brother. I hope that we can meet again in the future, and I cannot wait to read whatever he comes out with next.
If you would like to read this fascinating book, you can purchase "Olympia" here.