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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Sean Douglas McCollum

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world?
Writing can be a powerful tool not only for self-expression but for developing a deeper understanding of oneself and the world. Stories, of whatever kind, are a primary means for communicating experience and knowledge without necessarily having to make every silly mistake for ourselves. Though those are also necessary, and mistakes made with a sense of humor and self-compassion can be revelations themselves.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block?
One simple strategy I use is to write the first true thing that comes to mind, to paraphrase Hemingway in A Moveable Feast. Often when I’m blocked, it means I’m trying to do too much too fast or trying to take a shortcut. Then the best thing I can do is slow down, read and research more, and keep re-identifying the heart of what the characters or story wants to say. If I need to prime the pump, as it were, I’ll also return to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones for fun and accessible exercises to get my hand and the words moving again. In the end, though, it’s all about applying the butt to the chair and blocking out distractions as much as possible. Damn you WiFi.

What is your favorite time to write?
For creative writing, my heart and mind are often in the right place in the morning after coffee and meditation. Sometimes I’ll sit on the cushion with a notebook next to me since so many ideas come wandering past while I’m meditating. I’m pretty sure I’ve missed more than I’ve remembered.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers?
One of my early writing mentors told me, “To be an interesting writer, lead an interesting life.” Then there’s Saul Bellow’s observation: “All you need to do to lead an interesting life is be a damn fool.”

As far as making a living as a writer? About 15 years ago I realized I had to view publishing as a collaborative process with members of my critique group, editors, publishers, and critics. I did not have to be servile to criticism, but once I stopped defending my ego and instead considered the quality of the work first and foremost, my attitude and work took a big step forward.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? The explosion of diversity among creators and their work. The traditional gatekeepers of what is considered good and valuable no longer have a cultural stranglehold on what we read.

Diversity applies to evolving forms of publishing, as well. Graphic novels, multimedia content, independent publishing, online journals, you name it, are changing how we tell our stories in remarkable ways. Change is a constant, and there’s more peace and creativity in honoring and accepting change than resisting it.

Sean McCollum’s 1 for All is out now with Brattle Publishing Group.