Beverly Willett is the author of Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection. A NYC entertainment lawyer turned author, she has written for dozens of national newspapers, magazines and on-line journals including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Post, The Guardian, Salon, Woman’s Day, and The Huffington Post, among others. She has been featured on CNN’s HLN Weekend Express, Fox Radio, Sirius Radio, and Public Radio. She also gave a popular Tedx Talk entitled “How To Begin Again.” Visit her at www.beverlywillett.com.
- When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
BW: Both as an adult and a child. I was raised in a middle-class family in rural Maryland. First in my family to attend college, creative pursuits weren’t encouraged as a profession. Drama club, chorus, and writing for the school newspaper, all activities on my high school resume, were viewed as purely extracurricular activities, not the main course for earning a living. After I stopped practicing law and became a full-time stay-at-home-mom, I thought about what I could do part-time. I’d been a lawyer and lawyers spend most of their time writing so I thought I’d try my hand at parenting articles. But that wasn’t creative enough to satisfy me either. Many years later, long after my divorce, I uncovered the evidence of how far back I’d actually wanted to be a writer. I share that discovery in my new memoir, Disassembly Required.
- How long did it take to write your first memoir?
BW: It’s hard to say exactly. I wrote drafts of parts of the backstory many years ago when I thought of writing another book related to my divorce. Most of the events in the book took place in 2013, however. I started writing about them and compiling the overall outline in 2014, and finished my first draft that year. But I edited and re-edited the book multiple times for several more years before it was finally published on July 30, 2019. All in all, the process from start to finish took more than five years.
- What is your work schedule like when writing a book?
BW: I’m not a sit in your chair at the same time every day for X number of hours kind of gal. Getting up early to get my children off to school turned me into a morning person so that’s still when I do most of my writing, that and in the afternoon. But if a spurt of passion or a sudden epiphany moves me, I’ll write at nearly any time of the day except the middle of the night. Deadlines are always a great motivator for me to put my seat in the chair even when I don’t feel like it. But otherwise I have no set schedule. A couple of hours one day might be all I have time or motivation for. When writing or editing a book, or other long piece, that day might be followed by a 14-hour one.
- Where do you get your ideas or information for your book and articles?
BW: So far I’ve only written non-fiction so all my ideas come from my own experiences and observations, except for some of the service pieces I’ve written about other people. Divorce was the most difficult suffering I’ve been through so far in my life so that provided the passion and catalyst for transformation in my life. It was natural then, that loss would form the focus of my first book. That and marriage has provided the inspiration for most of my articles as well. I’ve also written lots of op eds so when I notice something in the news that I connect with in a deep way I write about that too, filtering my views through my own experiences. Ideas for most of my service pieces in magazines have come from the magazines themselves when I’ve been offered an assignment. But again, those editors have been familiar with my writing beforehand so those articles too reflect the themes and spirit of my personal writing whether investigative, justice-oriented, or celebratory of people and organizations doing amazing or brave things.
5. What do you do when you’re not writing?
BW: Tons of volunteer work. I serve on three non-profit boards in Savannah – the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless, the Flannery O’Connor Child Home Foundation, and the American Traditions Vocal Competition. I was forced to sell my own home when I could no longer afford my mortgage, but fortunate that the sale allowed me the means to start over and buy my own smaller home in Savannah, Georgia. So while I don’t know what it’s like not to have a roof over my head, the plight of the homeless is close to my heart. Homelessness is an epidemic in our country and a chronic problem for decades in Savannah. I’m proud to have been on the ground floor in developing the first tiny home village of its kind for veterans in the State of Georgia. A few years ago I also co-produced a documentary which aired on Georgia’s public broadcasting TV station, “Without A Roof.” In my other spare time, I enjoy attending events at the Jepson Museum, the SCAD Museum, the Savannah Philharmonic, and of course, the Savannah Book Festival!
6. What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your book?
BW: Publishing my first book has been an amazing experience, from start to finish. Instead of self-publishing, I decided to sign with a traditional publisher and I’m glad I did. I hadn’t thought about all the decisions that go into making up the final product – from the choice of font, typeface, flap and jacket copy, cover, chapter openings, etc. My publisher believes in collaboration so I enjoyed being involved in every phase of the process. It was a lot of work but also so much fun! I’d been told that writers have to wear a marketing hat these days and that as much time and energy goes into marketing as in writing. I’ve found that to be true. Since my book was recently released, I’m still on the marketing learning curve. One surprise is that the amount of energy and money that goes into marketing does not necessarily have a direct correlation to sales. Unless you’re a celebrity, I’m not yet sure what does (and it seems that nobody else has the magic formula either). But again, it’s still early and I’m plugging away and taking advantage of every door that opens.
7. Any tips/suggestions on getting started?
BW: If you want to be a writer, you need to put your, ahem, you know what I mean, in the chair each day. That’s a paraphrase of advice I heard somewhere, and I agree with it. Sure writers procrastinate too. But eventually they write and they write and they write. I hear lots of people talk about the stories they want to tell but they never get started writing. Most of us are scared to death to face that new blank page each day, but we force ourselves to move beyond that fear every day. As a lawyer, I wrote for most of my professional life. But writing as a lawyer didn’t prepare me for writing a memoir or writing for newspapers and magazines. A different style is required entirely. I used to read articles about “finding your voice,” didn’t know what they were talking about, and was scared I’d never find my own. Again, only by writing and writing will it eventually emerge. Early on I also took some writing classes – classes in memoir and writing for newspapers and magazines. I also attended writing workshops and have always belonged to a writing group.
8. What do you think makes a good story?
BW: Almost any topic can make a good story. But whether it resonates with an audience depends on how you tell it (craft), whether you can connect on an emotional level with other people, and honesty. Readers can also tell if you’re hiding, holding back, or glossing over something that needs to be told or explored more deeply. Early on, writing teachers gave me back what I’d considered pretty good first drafts and told me to go deeper. When I checked, they were right. There was usually a richer or unexplored story beneath what I had initially been willing to tell. A good story always has conflict and carries the reader along, quietly urging them to turn the page. Most readers of my memoir have told me they devoured my book in one or two sittings. I hope that means I’ve been successful in telling my story.
9. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
BW: I told people I wanted to be either a teacher or missionary. As a teenager and young adult, I was convinced I wanted to practice law and did for many years. In reality, I always wanted to be a writer, something I wouldn’t remember until midlife. Other than that, I have always just wanted to be able to read all day!