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Five Questions with Intro. To Memoir Instructor, Amy Shearn

1.) When did you know you wanted to be a writer? I really always wanted to be a writer! I was always a big reader and writing felt like a natural way to be a part of that conversation. When I was a kid I had a secret backup plan of being an English teacher, because that would also involve getting to think about books and I thought it would be fun to decorate bulletin boards, but I'm not sure I would have the stamina for that line of work, so, writing it is.

2.) What do you love most about the writing process?

I love that moment when the book or story seems to take off without you, and something appears on the page you didn't expect to see. It's almost magical really -- where does it come from? And then a secondary magic is when you hear from a reader who says that what you wrote was just what they needed to read. It makes all the agony and rejection worth it, it really does.

3.) What do you love most about teaching writing?

It feels like such a privilege to get to be involved with an early draft of something. It's really so intimate, the way you can see how someone's brain works, how they put together a story, how they make sense of what happened to them or what they're trying to say. And I really love thinking and talking about the craft of writing. Writing can feel like -- and can be, sometimes -- an almost mystical experience, but there are also mechanics at play. I love helping writers discover the process they need to be able to write what they want to write.

4.) What are you reading right now?

I've been reading a wonderful story collection by Alison Lurie called Women and Ghosts, which a student actually recommended to me. After bingeing memoir and craft books for a few months in a row, I'm now in an intense short story phase. I've also been listening rather obsessively to the New Yorker fiction podcast, which is sort of like an MFA in podcast form. Pairs really well with long walks, although (or maybe because?) many of the stories are somewhat melancholy.

5.) What's your favorite writing quote?

I love the E.L. Doctorow quote, "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but can make the whole trip that way." And I also love the very actionable advice: "Ass in the chair." I think I first saw this attributed to Nora Roberts, but I also think probably 80,000 people have suggested this. Nevertheless, it's a good reminder of how to actually get something done.

Amy Shearn is teaching a four-week Intro. to Memoir workshop on Wednesday evenings this summer (via Zoom) beginning July 19th.

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