Why is writing important to you and why do you think it's an important medium for the world? Writing is about connecting. It is a solitary task, both individual and introspective. And yet, as mythologist Joseph Campbell tells us, we should trust that what we are doing is important, if not delivered. His portrayal of the hero journey parallels the work of the writer in which "the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world." I also attach to Emily Dickinson’s response to the question, “Why do I write?” Her answer: To know what time it is. As isolated as she was, Dickinson recognized that writers are inevitably witnesses to their time, as well as voices for their time. In writing my newest book, Beginner’s Mind, I had a compelling sense of what time it was. One of our most pressing questions today for parents, homeschooling parents, and for teachers-in-training is “How do we want teachers to teach our children?” The loving teacher at the center of this book has the answer.
What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer's block? I commit to small units of writing time--two hours, for example. Knowing that every minute is precious pushes me to maximize my use of them. E.B. White saw writer's block as a form of leisure he could not afford. I agree. Secondly, I focus on building content, rather than writing a book. When I start writing, I do not imagine that what I wrote first will appear first in the finished draft. This seems rudimentary, and yet writers frequently testify to writing themselves into a corner this way. Finally, Hemingway's tip: I always complete my writing session with a starting place for the next session: a few bulleted ideas that make me eager to return.
What is your favorite time to write? As I suspect is true for many writers, my favorite time is not about a specific hour in a day, but about the conditions that I can create that allow me to focus.
What are these conditions?
1. Certainty that I will not be interrupted
2. A promise to myself that I will not let the censors chase out the muses.
The censors appear in the forms of fears: fear of writing something too unpolished, fear of saying something too authentic or true, or fear of having wasted one's time. For writers like myself--who cannot imagine a life without writing--this last fear mobilizes me. Virgil knew about this: “The flocks fear the wolf, the crops the storm, and the trees the wind.” As Virgil notes, fears are usually justified. Therefore, they can mobilize us to find ways to outsmart the wolf.
What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Be a reader as well as a writer. Read authors from the past, and learn who your contemporaries are. Secondly, learn from the masters so you can forge your own master work. Finally, know everything you can know about the rules of writing so that you can comfortably and creatively break the rules.
What excites you most about being a writer in today's age? The Internet has eradicated all kinds of borders for today's writer. It has produced opportunities for those who would have previously been called "local" authors to reach a global readership. Additionally, the abundance of literary journals and communities available to authors today has infused the market with a democratic air. Authors are no no longer subjects to the sovereign "Big Five" in publishing. Because the burden of self-promotion is similar, whether one signs on with a large or small publishing house, today's authors are encouraged to find publishers who have built precisely the right homes for their work. Marrying one's work to the right press means becoming part of a stable of authors whose work you admire, and whose careers you want to help cultivate. This is how writers thrive and how innovation in the arts is spawned.
M.B. McLatchey's Beginner's Mind: From Shipyard to Harvard Yard: Embracing Endless Possibilities is out now with Regal House Publishing.