1) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Well, the truth is I have always been a writer, but for many years I was deep in the closet. My dad was a newspaper editor, so we always had access to paper and a typewriter, so I spent hours as long as I can remember writing weird stories (and of course that high school period of really bad, angst-ridden poetry). As a film/theatre major I focused on film theory, criticism and playwriting. At a certain point I had surpassed all the classes our school could offer and I was given independent studies in these two areas. This sounds corny, but I do thank the Westport Writers’ Workshop for helping me come out of the closet and share my writing with more people.
2) What do you love most about the writing process?
I love when the story takes over, and I am no longer the architect, but the conduit for characters and ideas that I can’t fully take credit for. I love those moments when I’m not looking at the page and the words are pouring out of me – when I don’t have to worry about punctuation and grammar and spelling, just let the story take over. Those are my favorite moments. Of course, the editing phase follows, and I confess it’s nice to come back and whittle away at the mass of words I’ve plastered on the page.
3) What do you love most about teaching writing?
Watching the joy emerge as my students see the potential in their own work. I confess that I don’t know how to teach anyone writing. I don’t think anyone really does. But I do know how to listen, to actively participate in the process, and help writers drill down to the truest, boldest aspects of their story. I love the joy and enthusiasm of a good, positive critique, of enlisting a group of people to get on board and help other writers fulfill their promise. Maybe it’s because I teach playwriting, and I come from a theatre background, my classes can be rowdy, funny, hysterical even. I apologize to all those classes around ours, but I relish the excitement that emerges when we’re all engaged and committed to helping each other grow.
4) What are you reading right now?
Other than my Twitter feed? I am reading Stephen King’s new book, The Institute. Stephen King can spool out a story – and his gift is he’s always fun, more a virtuoso of story than words. Sometimes I’ll be reading other authors – Annie Proulx or Nick Flynn as two far-flung examples – and I’ll get caught up admiring how they did that, how their words, their ideas coalesced into something so sublime.
5) What’s your favorite writing quote?
My students will tell you it’s Kurt Vonnegut’s, which I always mangle. In my mis-quoting I tell them ‘if you’ve written the best sentence ever, then cut it.’ Which is not what he said at all, but it’s useful, when I’m trying to steer folks away from ostentatious, labored-sounding writing. What Vonnegut really said was: “If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.” But my favorite all-time quote, not only about writing, but about living, belongs to Mary Oliver, from her poem “Wild Geese.” I’ve heard it repeated in writing seminars, yoga classes, guided meditations, you name it: “You do not have to be good./ You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting./ You only have to let the soft animal of your body/ love what it loves.”