Welcome to my weekly series – Author Interviews.
These posts are where I interview fab authors and get them to share their tips on writing and motivation. All my Author Interviews can be found here.
Today I am super excited as author Melissa Grunow has agreed to sit in my red interview chair.
Hey Melissa, Welcome! Please tell my readers about yourself and the book / books you have written…
I am a Michigan-based writer who has been teaching college English classes for the past fourteen years. I’m also a pet lover and the proud fur parent of a husky named Duke, three cats—Ani, Lola, and Phantom—and am currently fostering a pit bull puppy named Hank to see if we are the right fit for his forever home. I also love woodworking projects and recently designed and built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my home office to store my ever-growing collection of books.
My first book was a memoir titled Realizing River City that was published by Tumbleweed Books in February 2016. It follows the relationships I had in my twenties as a means of discovering how despite the troubles we may face, there is hope in the way we continually risk ourselves in search for the life we want to live.
When did you write your first book?
I started writing this book in 2013, though I had been kicking around the idea of writing a memoir about relationships for a year or two prior to that, but I didn’t have the motivation or courage to get started.
How long did it take to write your first book?
From start to finish, the book took about three years. During this time, I wrote multiple drafts, sought feedback from a number of writers and editors, and finally had the final version accepted by Tumbleweed Books. It was released six months after acceptance.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
I’ve wanted to write a book ever since I can remember which I’m sure is the case for many authors. I started out writing short stories, many of which were highly autobiographical as it would be some experience in my life that would provide the impetus for the story. Eventually, my writing evolved to focus almost entirely on creative nonfiction, primarily personal essays. Originally my plan was to put together a memoir-in-essays, but I was advised to restructure it as a single narrative which was good advice. The greatest motivator, though, was when I enrolled in the MFA program at National University and had to write a book-length manuscript for my thesis in order to graduate. That was the final push I needed to make the book come together.
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
There were a number of factors that derailed me from my writing along the way: lack of time, uncertainty, struggle with connections and structure, and general insecurity. The only way to overcome these issues was to just push through it, but not to the point where I frustrated myself. I would take breaks, read a book, walk the dog, enjoy a nice meal, or do something else to reward myself for progress made. I also took classes and attended conferences to engage in conversations about writing with other authors.
Other issues have to do with writing memoir specifically. Because the book is retelling true events, I often got stuck or felt doubtful if I was missing details in my memory or wasn’t certain that I had the facts right. To overcome those issues, I finally just had to write what I knew and then fill in the gaps or make corrections in revision. Otherwise, I would get obsessed with details that ultimately don’t impact the greater purpose of the book.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
Writing is hard. Typing is easy. Telling a story is easy. But good, quality writing that is engaging and literary and multi-layered with smooth sentences, connections, complex characters, and a thought-provoking theme, is hard. So, naturally, I would go through bad patches. I see those moments of struggle as moments of growing as a writer. If it’s not a challenge, it’s probably not a very good book…yet.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
I do both. I have ideas for what needs to be in each chapter, but when I am actually writing, I let the work take its own direction. All the structural connections happen in revision.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
All the money! (Just kidding). For me, the best thing about being a writer is it provides a platform for my voice and ideas and has the potential to be revolutionary.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
It’s a lot of long, hard work for very little return.
Have you ever considered quitting writing, and if so how have you worked through this?
I’ve put writing on pause before, but it wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t do much writing after college at all; it was nearly ten years before I decided to start actively writing again. I think I just needed those ten years to live without the pressure of producing something. Sometimes life just needs to be lived, and that’s okay. The writing will still be there when you’re ready to get back to it.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
On days where I can devote a chunk of time to writing, I will often wake up early (around 7 a.m.), make some coffee, spend time with my pets, and just let my mind clear itself. By 9 a.m., I am in the chair and ready to work. I usually have multiple projects happening at once, so I don’t get burned out or bored with one piece. I will give myself lots of small breaks, and I’m usually done for the day after four or five hours. After that, it just feels like I’m punishing myself. However, I never stop writing in my head; I’m always thinking about my work-in-progress.
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
I wouldn’t say I suffer from procrastination per say, as I am the kind of person who gets tasks done in advance in all aspects of my life. In writing, though, I do suffer from self-doubt, and that causes me to delay my work. If I feel like I’m not producing anything of quality, I’ll put my energy into reading a good book, usually a memoir or essay collection. That’s usually all the inspiration I need to get back into it.
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
For me, it’s characters, but that’s true of most literary works. If a reader isn’t attached to the characters, she isn’t going to care about what happens to them.
What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
Be humble, never stop learning and reading, and be a good literary citizen.
How do you manage social media as a writer?
I have an author website that I update weekly as well as a Facebook page. I also have Twitter that I use almost exclusively for posting about writing as well as following other writers, journals, and publishers. Social media is a give and take. It’s important that if you post to social media as a writer that you also engage with others on social media. It’s tacky to expect others to like and respond to you without giving the same courtesy.
Sometimes social media can be a distraction for me, as I’m sure is true for others. There are I days when I think I should just disable my Facebook so I can focus on my work (especially with the election coming up!), but that would be short-sighted.
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Read a lot. Read in the genre that you want to write, but also challenge yourself to read the classics and outside of that genre. Read literature. Join a writing critique group or take a class so you can give and receive feedback on your work. Listen. If readers are making suggestions you don’t agree with, at least consider why they think something isn’t working, even if you disagree with their solution. Revise, revise, revise. Don’t be predictable but don’t rely on gimmicky plot twists, either. Be humble. Go to readings and support the other writers in your community. Attend conferences. Subscribe to writing magazines and join national and local organizations. Writing is a secluded act, but being an author is a very public endeavor.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
I see writer’s block and procrastination as the same thing. I always have ideas, but if I’m struggling to form sentences, it’s probably a self-confidence issue that I need to address, not really writer’s block.
Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
Absolutely! Even if I’m not thinking about a whole book, I’m at least filing away ideas for another essay. I write down everything as it comes to me, and I never throw away my notes. That way when I’m ready to write, I’ve done some preliminary thinking and planning, and I have something to work with. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank computer screen and feeling like I have to start something from scratch.
I’m more than halfway through drafting my next book which will be an essay collection that examines the concept of place and belonging as they pertain to identity and the uncertainty that exists for all of us when confronted with issues that never saw resolution.
Another book I have in mind is a childhood memoir about my mother and mental illness. It’s not very far along, though, but I’m compiling notes as they come to me.
What do you wear to write?
I’ve heard that some people write naked which is crazy to me. I’m just the opposite. My best writing outfit is thick socks, slippers, jeans or sweatpants, and a long-sleeved shirt. I dress like this to write even in the summer. I have sensitive skin and my feet are always cold, so by staying covered, I ward off chilly toes and irritating my wrists while my fingers move across the keyboard.
If readers want to get in touch how do they contact you?
I love to hear from readers! I’m available for interviews and book clubs discussions, or just to chat informally about writing. There are many ways to get in touch:
- Through the Contact form on my website www.melissagrunow.com
- Message me on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MelissaGrunowAuthor
- Tweet at me at https://twitter.com/melgrunow
- Ask me a question on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14876253.Melissa_Grunow
Thanks Melissa, great interview!
Some things I took from our chat today:
- I adore the names of your pets!
- I like how you view bad writing patches as moments of writer growth. This is so true as we only grow as writers when we are challenged.
- I love how you see writing as a secluded act but being an author as a public endeavour.
- I think you have some great tips for aspiring authors out there.
- There is nothing worse than chilly toes at the keyboard!
Calling all authors – if you have a book publishing soon or have a book already out and you want to sit in my red virtual interview chair please let me know in the comments section of this post. Thanks 🙂