Personality and prose in professor's new book

by Kyle Labe / Beacon Correspondent • April 12, 2017

Although she dreamed of writing fiction as a child, Wagner's first book is full of nonfiction analysis.
Courtesy of Meta Wagner
Although she dreamed of writing fiction as a child, Wagner's first book is full of nonfiction analysis.
Courtesy of Meta Wagner

Meta Wagner is what her new book refers to as an A-lister. She seeks recognition and validation, dreams of fame and adoration, and has an end goal in immortality.

Being an A-lister is just one of five categories in What’s Your Creative Type?: Harness the Power of Your Artistic Ability, Wagner’s newly released self-improvement guide to finding the motivation for mastering your art.

The book, released April 11, seeks not to answer how to write, but rather why we do. Wagner’s long-form debut is based off a course Wagner developed and has taught for several years at Emerson College, entitled Creativity in Context. It’s an interdisciplinary class that studies why people create, through literature, film, art, and psychology.

“So much of the emphasis [on writing] is on the how, and the process,” Wagner said, “And I thought ‘Why does anyone pick up a paintbrush? Or decide to write a poem or love song?’ You know, where’s that initial urge come from?”

Each chapter in the book is modeled after what Wagner hypothesized to be five differing types of artistic personality: the A-lister, the artisan, the game-changer, the sensitive soul, and the activist. While she hopes the reader can determine their characterization from the introduction, her publishing house Seal Press also developed a quiz online.

The inspiration derived from George Orwell’s famous essay, “Why I Write,” where the 1984 author examines what he believed to be four motives that prompt every writer.

In What’s Your Creative Type?, Wagner often analyzes the basis of the careers of famous artists and cultural icons through time, such as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Virginia Woolf, Meryl Streep, and Beyoncé, to name a few.

Raquel Hitt teaches Introduction to College Writing and Research Writing here at Emerson, and is also Wagner’s publicist.

“[Wagner] is lovely to work with. She’s very engaged, and a hard worker,” Hitt said, “The book, too, is really fun. It takes information and turns it into something you can do with it. I really like how immediately applicable it is.”

Wagner, who received her Master of Fine Arts at Emerson in 2002, began writing nonfiction by submitting columns to The Boston Globe, online magazine PopMatters, and more. Although she graduated school studying fiction writing, she eventually made the switch to nonfiction.

“I really enjoy the research. I enjoy coming up with an original concept—I think that is the most creative piece for me,” she said,. “I find it personally really daunting to stare at a blank screen. I like having [research] to start from.”

She writes under what she calls the power of deadlines. Even when she was told her book would have to be 60,000 words instead of the 50,000 she was anticipating, she never gave up hope.

Ever since she was a child, Wagner dreamed of writing a book. Her favorite fiction as a kid was the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, about a little girl who faces challenges when chasing her ambitions to become a published author.

But unlike the protagonist Betsy Ray, the path to publication for Wagner was a surprisingly easy one. She had interviewed Amanda Annis, who was an editor at the time for publishing houses like Penguin Random House and Cambridge University House, for a journalistic piece. So when Annis phoned later with the news that she was now an agent, and inquired if Wagner knew anybody working on a nonfiction book, she jumped at the chance.

“I just blurted out, ‘Yes, me!’” Wagner said, “That was honestly a life-changing moment.”

Before this, she had already prepared a proposal, half a chapter, and a query letter—but she had no end result in mind. After the phone call, Wagner began to visualize her book on the shelves.

After two years of writing, Wagner produced that first manuscript in late Jan. 2016. She wants aspiring writers to know that the publishing process doesn’t always have to be as daunting as it may seem. By following deadlines, working closely with her editor, and having a string of Emerson alumni networks, Wagner couldn’t have seen the process go any smoother.

“When you start to imagine yourself doing it, and with a little outside encouragement … then I think taking the leap to doing it is where people get stuck,” she said.

As of now, Wagner has multiple events coming up. She has readings and signings around the city this month to promote the release of her book.

Looking towards the future, Wagner doesn’t necessarily have another book in mind, but hinted at branching off ideas from What’s Your Creative Type?—though with no promise.

And final words of advice for any aspiring writers?

“There’s no time like the present. Don’t be like, ‘No, I’m too young, too inexperienced,’” Wagner said, “If you’re a good writer, it’s so appreciated out in the world.”