Welcome to week thirty-one of the #WritersQuick5 series - where we learn about writing from fellow writers.
And we’re back!
After a few weeks of summer break I could not be more thrilled to be back and to be sharing out more of this #WritersQuick5 series.
I am particularly honored and excited that our first writer back is none other than my dear friend Melissa Joan Walker. I’ve known Melissa and her family for many years; we’ve shared amazing life adventures together. She is an incredible writer and I’m so stoked for you all to get to know her better.
Melissa is primarily an essayist now, but she’s published fiction and poetry, too. Her writing has been published on The Manifest-Station and Modern Simplicity; and in Sentence; Chicago Arts Journal; The Denver Quarterly; Banshee; Parable Press; Yes, Poetry; the NewerYork; After Hours; Orion Headless; Ignavia; Wunderkammer Poetry; Disembodied Text; Words & Images; Split Rock Review; Telophase; and Tablet.
Isn’t she amazing? She also has an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and you can read more of her current essays on her blog... and subscribe!
Let’s see what Melissa has to say…
Question #1 - Where do you write and why do you write there?
I get up super early and write in a corner on my sofa in the living room. I like that I can sit here as long as I want, and I don't have to pay for coffee or worry about my computer when I get up to use the restroom. I can choose the music. I usually start with one song that I play to begin my day.
Question #2 - What is unique about writing for your particular genre?
Essay is interesting, and especially my subject area, which is spirituality, because it's so personal. Cheryl Strayed talked about this with Wild, how the criticism of personal essay or memoir is often not about the writing but about YOU, the author -- critiquing your choices, your outlook.
I find with my subject area people hold such personal ideas about spirituality, God, the Universe and it's often critical to their identity, so they are offended more easily than they would be if I just was writing fiction they didn't like. But I love talking about things that are important to me, and are really critical for most of us -- these questions of how do we get through the day spiritually intact with all the craziness in the world? How do we stay open and engaged with the world, without letting it overwhelm us?
Question #3 - What are some of your grammar or punctuation pet peeves?
This is a hard question for me to answer. The truth is I get turned off when I see grammar and spelling errors online, ones that seem out of sync with the author's image online. So, if they're an "expert" in a particular area, but they have these grammar issues, I am not so sure about their other expertise either.
But the issue of "correct grammar" is often an issue of privilege. I am not talking about choices that are intrinsic to the voice. There are some authors I love who use a different grammar system from the one we were taught in school. I'm just talking about carelessness.
Because we can publish ourselves online, I see a lot of carelessness in email newsletters and on personal websites. If I see that, I just bail because it cuts through the author's credibility for me. I certainly make mistakes, too, but I don't blame people if they question me for it. Usually it's an issue of me not proofreading carefully enough.
Question #4 - At what point in your writing process do you start to bring other people in to review your work?
It depends. I sometimes bring people in very early but then I often just need a cheerleader for the project, so I'll be very clear and just say "Can I show you this piece and you'll only tell me good things about it?" If I get the feeling they won't be able to do that, I take it to someone else. I have enough experience with feedback to know that much of it is just based on personal preference, so I try to take the piece to someone who is a reader I'd want. So, if someone really loves sci-fi and I hate sci-fi, I wouldn't ask them for feedback on my fiction.
In the essays I'm doing now, I show them to one particular person when I've done the first draft, especially if I see a problem in the piece and I'm not sure how to fix it. It helps to have someone else read the piece and then in the brief discussion that follows, I often get a clearer idea of how to fix my problem.
Question #5 - What advice would you give to a new writer about the writing process?
I'd say to start submitting and publishing as early as possible. I was really shy about this in the beginning but I wish I'd been bolder. I did an internship at a publishing company in college and they passed on a book that I KNOW all of my friends would have bought. So that helped me see that these decision makers have their own tastes and they make decisions for all kinds of reasons, and they also make mistakes. They're not God.
So go ahead and start submitting. You'll get a lot of rejections, but even the rejections feel like evidence that someone has read your writing, you're a "real writer" now -- you're submitting and well, yes, maybe getting rejected, but you're learning about the process and you're participating in the full process. As you start to get some publications, you'll develop more confidence and this will help you gain momentum in your writing.
If you don't submit, you can be sure you won't get published. And just keep at it. I read a long time ago that a successful writer is just someone who didn't quit. That helped me.
YES! I love this advice. Submit your work! Let other people see it. I love the idea that a successful writer is just someone who didn’t quit. I needed to hear that!
Please check out Melissa’s website and blog. You can subscribe to her weekly newsletter. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Thank you for your words Melissa. I miss you!
If you would like to be featured as a writer in the #WritersQuick5 series, please just reach out and let me know. I’d love to promote your work as well!
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