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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Shannon Reed

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world?
What I tell my creative writing students at the University of Pittsburgh is that I cannot guarantee that they will have success as writers, if they define success as publications and lots of money. But I can guarantee that the world needs their stories, told in their specific voice. Some reader out there longs to be seen and understood, to connect, even through words on a page. Writing is their–and my–opportunity to reach that reader. So much of my writing now is what I wanted to read when I was growing up, or as a young adult, or in my profession. The chance to try to say the things I needed to hear–and to work those things out on the page, to clarify them–is why writing is important to me.

Also, gotta say, I’m a born entertainer, and I love to make people laugh!

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block?
I just switch to another writing project when I get stuck and wait for time and my subconscious to work out the block. If I really have to stay focused on one project, and the words are just not coming, I take a break–go for a walk, take a nap, bake something. This frees up my subconscious to go to work!

What is your favorite time to write?
I’m a daytime writer, motivated by anxiety that I am not producing words, so first thing in the morning after breakfast sets me up for a more pleasant rest of the day.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers?
A few of the professors in my MFA program said something along the lines of “Writers write,” and I’ve held onto that. There’s no substitute for putting the work in, day after endless day. I’d also add that “writers revise”–no first draft is ready to be published.

In my own practice, I’ve learned, much to my chagrin, that whether the writing went smoothly or I was in agony the entire time, it does not show in the words themselves, which may be great or terrible. My personal experience of doing the writing doesn’t show.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age?
I’m excited by the expansion of published voices–it’s been a long time coming, but we are finally seeing more writers of color, LGBTQ writers, female-identifying writers, and so on. I know it is slow going, but when I compare what I read in college (a parade of dead old white men) to what my students read now, I see a change. And I also see my students’ eagerness to read as widely as possible, and to understand people different than themselves through writing. That’s really exciting and gives me great hope.

Shannon Reed’s Why Did I Get a B? will be out on June 30 with Atria Books.