I found an old interview I did years ago for a student completing her senior project for high school graduation–I think from 2011. She asked some pretty cool questions about writing. It’s fun for me to revisit my answers. It reinforces for me why I love what I do.
- When did you first become interested in writing?
My interest in writing came about rather by default. In school, it was the only thing I was good at; but fortunately, this helped with all the other subjects where I was weak. In honors biology my freshman year in high school, we had to do a genetics-probability type of experiment where we kept a journal of our findings. My journal had really nothing of any scientific value in it, but my teacher enjoyed the lively story about my penny collection. He told me I should consider being a writer when I grow up, and the next year I was dropped from the science honors program.
Later, after I had married and had my first child, I watched horrified as footage of baby victims of the Oklahoma City bombing were pulled from the rubble. I vowed to leave my full-time job in banking and find a career I could do from home. At around the same time, my mother gave me a box of stuff she had saved from my childhood and in it was an award I had won for writing in the first grade. I decided to give writing a try. I started by selling articles about family life and child care to local baby magazines, and was soon hired as a reporter for the Brockton Enterprise, where I worked for about seven years before I moved to Rhode Island.
2. Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you overcome it?
First, I eat. I’ve gained 15 pounds since I went back to work as a newspaper writer last spring, after moving away from the teaching profession. As deadlines loom, I panic, eat, and chew my nails. It’s not pretty, but there it is.
Then, I start writing anything at all. Often, when I’m really stuck, my opening sentence will look like this, “I really hate this stupid assignment and I wish I hadn’t said yes to it, but I did, and now I have to write about stupid people who make money selling crafts on eBay…” And then I go on to write the story, making absolute certain that I erase the first sentence before I submit it.
And sometimes, I just type in all the quotes I’ve gathered from my research in no particular order. After they’re all on the page, I cut and paste them into a flow that I like, and then I fill in between with my own thoughts and connecting paragraphs.
And when I’m done, I eat some more. I’m thinking of replacing the “eating to break writer’s block” technique with exercising, but I’m not there yet.
3. What’s the most interesting story you’ve ever written about?
One story I’m most proud of wasn’t actually that interesting to write. It was about a woman who had been a physician in Ukraine before she moved to the U.S. She was collecting money, food, and baby items to send to her former colleagues who ran an orphanage in Ukraine. I just wrote a small piece about what she was collecting and where donations could be sent.
I didn’t know this at the time, but the story was translated into Russian and reprinted in a Ukrainian paper, and Russian officials thought that the U.S. was publishing stories about the government not caring for its children.
A government official was prompted by the article to investigate and visited the facility to make sure the children were getting proper care. The official had recently been at an orphanage 100 miles away, noticed a child who resembled and had the same last name as a child in the orphanage I had written about, and brought the two boys together. Each had thought his brother had been killed in the same accident that killed their parents, and of course were delighted to find each other again.
So while the story itself wasn’t all that interesting at the time, it felt good that my writing had made such a difference in the lives of those two boys.
As for the most interesting story I’ve ever explored and written? I just don’t know. There have been hundreds. I’ve written about former CIA agents, a 9-year-old high diver who was blind (can you imagine???), a young man who survived a rare, often fatal form of brain cancer who went on to graduate from college and become a naturalist and a teacher. I’ve also covered drug busts, political scandals, and murder scenes. Not one stands out as “the most interesting.” I think, in general, I find them all interesting because people fascinate me.