Novelist and instructor Nöel Alumit belongs to the rare group of Writers’ Program teachers who once were Writers’ Program students. This February, he’ll teach Creating Memorable Characters and Dialogue at the Writers Studio, our four-day intensive writing conference—a conference that he attended years ago as a student. In this exclusive Q&A he lets us in on how his days as a student shaped his work and prepared him for the writing life.
Writers’ Program: You were a Writers’ Program student who once upon a time attended the Writers Studio, and now here you are with two novels (Letters to Montgomery Clift and Talking to the Moon) and numerous awards. How did you make the leap from student to professional writer?
Nöel Alumit: My leap was facilitated by other friends trying to be writers. It was a community that propelled me. There is one woman I met when I was taking the Writers Studio. Her name is Karen Sorenson and she was from Portland. We clicked as people. We kept in touch and she’d read early drafts of both my novels. Her feedback was invaluable. She was able to kick my work into shape. She is now a writer in her own right, becoming a columnist for a major paper in Oregon.
In becoming a professional writer, I am also willing to take the jabs that come with it. I hate rejection, but I’ve come to endure it. I am nothing if not resilient.
WP: What project(s) did you work on during your Studio workshop? And what is it like now to be on the other side, as a Writers Studio teacher?
Nöel: I was developing my first novel Letters to Montgomery Clift. I named my teacher Phyllis Gebauer and many of my peers from the Studio workshop on my Acknowledgment Page. They really were invested in my work and I was invested in theirs. Those four days were amazing.
That’s why it’s so surreal for me to be a teacher for the Studio workshop. I’ve come full circle. I hope my students get the kind of joy that I got when I attended.
WP: What do you think the four-day intensive format offers students that they couldn’t get in other workshops? What are you looking forward to most?
Nöel: It is truly a rare thing to be a writer twenty-four seven. Here, you can be a writer all day and night for four days. It’s a wonderful feeling. Toward the end of the four days, I thought I’d collapse from creative overload. That turned out to be good practice for when I had to write under deadline. I’ve had to make major revisions in short periods of time and I learned that I could stay focused for days at a time, if need be.
I’m looking forward to being a teacher for four days straight. I’ve never done that before. I’m hoping a momentum will build that I don’t have to break apart just because the three-hour class is over.
WP: What advice would you give a writer just starting out on the writing path?
Noel: If you’re starting out, do it for the sheer joy. Don’t worry about getting things right or what the critics will think. Just love the creativity that is coming from you.
WP: What’s next for you for your writing? What are you working on?
Nöel: I’m developing my third novel. I was going at a pretty good pace. Then I realized that I don’t know my subject well enough. I’m researching by reading lots of books and experimenting with voices and plot points.
WP: Anything else you’d like to share?
Nöel: Have fun and laugh and enjoy being with other writers. Make friends and engage in the most amazing conversations about writing. That is also what makes the four days so terrific. It can be one huge literary party!
Corey Campbell is the Program Representative in Creative Writing (Online).