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Member Spotlight: Melissa Dorval

author Melissa Dorval and her book When You Lose Control

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Writing is deeply important to me because it’s both a comfort and a necessity. When I’m overwhelmed or stressed, writing is soothing. I’m autistic, so I feel everything quite intensely. Writing helps me even things out and find a balance. I also see writing as a necessity because it’s my favorite way to express myself. Sometimes, as with my novel, I had a story to tell that just had to go somewhere, and I couldn’t have held back if I tried. The words came pouring out of me. I started writing my book post covid, so there was a lot to process, and writing my novel was a therapeutic way to begin working through that. I also think writing is a critical medium for the world because it makes us human. I believe everyone is a writer, and everyone has a story to tell. When we share our stories, we can connect and empathize with one another in such profound ways. Writers are so important; where would we be without books, movies, plays, articles, and so on? Words enrich our lives.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? The way I try to remedy writer’s block is by searching for a few writing prompts online. It can be something silly or something that has nothing to do with what I’m working on, just some sort of exercise to try and clear the fog. If that doesn’t work, I’ll play some music. If I need something intense, I’ll listen to Janis Joplin or Guns N’ Roses, and if I need something that makes me happy and tells a great story, I’ll put on Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel.

What is your favorite time to write? My favorite time to write is when the house is clean. It can be day or night; it doesn’t matter. If there’s laundry to be done or the litter box needs scooping, I’m never going to be able to harness my hyperfocus and sit down to write. I’d be too stressed knowing there are so many things to be done. And the chaos of a mess just makes me antsy. Once everything is taken care of, I can start to write with a clear mind. It’s even better if I have a cat in my lap and an iced coffee beside me.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? My mentor in college, Andre Dubus III, was big on being tuned into what he called your internal detector; that is, if you write something, especially dialogue, you have to be able to tell if it’s inauthentic. If you write something that sounds forced or takes the reader out of the story, you have to first be able to catch it and second be willing to go back and fix it until it’s right. Crafting dialogue is my favorite thing to do in all of writing, and Andre’s advice is always at the forefront. Sometimes, I can even hear him say, “Would this character really say that?” His advice has been invaluable, and it has become a tool I use every time I write.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? I think the most exciting thing about a writer these days is all the technology. I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for novelists back when you had to print out your manuscript and snail mail it to publishers and agents. I would never have the patience to do that. I wrote my novel on my cellphone. When inspiration hit, I was able to grab my phone out of my purse and start typing. I ended up getting rid of hundreds of thousands of words from my novel during all the edits and rewrites. If I had to do that by combing through papers, my book still wouldn’t be done. Plus, I have terrible handwriting, which would’ve significantly slowed things down. Being able to write on my phone and store all my notes and drafts electronically was a lifesaver. It’s also been fun sharing my writing journey through social media and being able to connect with other writers. There was never a shortage of people out there who understood what you were going through. I feel really fortunate those connections were only a click away.

Melissa Dorval’s When You Lose Control is out now with Spinning Monkey Press..