Why is writing important to you and why do you think it's an important medium for the world? Often, writing is how I figure out what I think–and writing by hand on actual paper helps me slow down enough to think more clearly. These days it's so easy–maybe too easy?–for all of us to speed-type and then hit the Send button FAST. Writing slowly, watching my handwritten patterns leak out onto the lined paper, is deliberative and meditative. Not a bad thing for the world we live in.
What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer's block? I remind myself that first drafts are like pancakes. The first one's underdone in the middle, barely edible, and should be given to the dog. It doesn't matter how pathetic a first draft is–its job is to be terrible, and every time I promise myself that no one will ever see it. Once I get some words on the page, any words, then the act of writing becomes a matter of crafting that draft into a structure that leads readers where I want them to go.
What is your favorite time to write? Ideally, mornings–before any outside Real Life invasions like news, email, those little red-button notifications have an opportunity to derail me. Realistically? I'd still say mornings, but it's usually after my attention’s already been deflected by the news or email. (I’m a former journalist, which probably helps explain my addiction.)
What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Read widely, but especially read what you wish you'd written–not with bitterness or despair, but with admiration. Then read it again: Why did it hit you so hard and stay with you long after you’d finished reading it? What, specifically, turns it into a piece you wish you'd written? Is it the topic? The tone? The scholarship and depth of research? How can you apply the element you admire to what you're working on right now? A second piece of advice: Focus. Eliminate all the distractions you can while both reading and writing. Turn off all the screens so that you can hear the writer’s voice more clearly–whether it be yours or someone else’s.
What excites you most about being a writer in today's age? I love that there are SO many storytelling tools that are available to so many! No longer are people limited to being able to type on an IBM Selectric using white-out to correct their errors. In fact, no longer are storytellers limited to words written in ink or pixels–narratives can start on paper and then fly out into podcasts, braided visual narratives, graphic novels ... oh my! It's a thrilling time to be a writer, and I’m beyond grateful to have access to so many tools.
Wynne Brown's The Forgotten Botanist: Sara Plummer Lemmon's Life of Science and Art is out now with Bison Books.