You can read Mina Samuels' moving essay, "The Wooden Spoon," in Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts - just released in paperback and eBook.
Mina Samuels is a full-time writer, editor, performance artist, book and movie-o-holic and fellow citizen. In addition to many ghostwriting projects, her previous books include, Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives, a novel titled, The Queen of Cups, and The Think Big Manifesto, co-authored with Michael Port. She has written and performed two one-woman plays: Do You Know Me? and Hazards. When she’s not writing or performing, she might be found out on the roads or trails, running, cycling, or cross-country skiing, among other things. She lives in New York and Truckee, CA with her partner and their feline diva. Her website is minasamuels.com
"The work always comes down to the same thing. Just start. Turn off the editor. Remove the filter. Write."
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Writing. I just love writing. Simultaneously letting words flow through me, and diving inside myself to find the words, the expression, the metaphor or juxtaposition that most accurately captures what I’m trying to say. There is, too, the surprise of re-reading something I wrote and not quite recognizing it as my own; the startling separateness of the work from myself. Whereas in my life I often feel clumsy, both physically and psychically, I feel (sometimes, at its best, not always of course) that my writing has a delicacy that is apart from me. Then there is what writing reveals to me about myself, and the world. Most often it’s not me who sees what’s been revealed, it’s a reader who catches the thread of a theme.
What’s the hardest part about writing for you?
Starting. Starting again when I have broken with a project for some amount of time. In both cases I tend to circle around the project-in-waiting as if it is a dangerous animal I have to tame. I have started countless ideas only to have them die as my fingers touch the keyboard. That’s natural. I know. Still, I’ve noticed that in almost every case of idea-crib-death it is because I spent too long trying to tame the idea. In those cases, I am a one-woman version of the ubiquitous group of men hovering around a plumbing project without ever picking up a tool. I know what I have to do, which is start, no matter how raw the idea seems. But I’m scared that it won’t work, and then where will I be? Will I ever have another idea? If I’m honest with myself, I’ve had countless un-hovered-over ideas die too, but I don’t notice, because I call that playing around or free writing. And when I write with no agenda, instead of bemoaning what doesn’t work, I am often surprised by something with legs. I’ve also had luck with what start out as artificial “exercises” or “challenges” someone else sets for me, as a way of loosening up my writing muscles. Write a story about your favorite mountain run and suddenly I have a piece that’s working: Castle Peak. The work always comes down to the same thing. Just start. Turn off the editor. Remove the filter. Write.
Where do your ideas come from?
There is nowhere my ideas don’t come from! Daily life and the extraordinary. A passing remark overheard on the subway and an intense life event.
How much time each week do you devote to writing?
Not enough. When I’m fired up about a project I’ll set myself a word threshold for every day, no matter what. Write 2000 or 2500 words, even if what you write is garbage. Then I might also spend time after that editing or rewriting something other than what I wrote that morning. When I’m not working on a specific thing, my writing discipline is erratic and is then further erratic-ized by my disappointment in my self. Why am I not like all those writers you read about who get up at ungodly hours, and even if they are working a full day at a job, they find time to write every day? Not me. Sigh.
What are you working on?
It makes me nervous to say, because then I worry I won’t do it. But then again, making a point of speaking our intentions publicly is conducive to following through! Herewith: A book proposal for a follow-up of sorts to Run Like a Girl. And a novel, which has been in the deep freezer for 18 months, but which I’m trying to defrost, to see if it’s irreparably freezer burned, or salvageable. I’m also pursuing an idea I have for a new play.
What has been the most surprising about learning your craft?
That it is a craft and not just an art; that there are guidelines, techniques and methods, which can actually help you to be a better writer—show don’t tell; details make a piece richer; one strong word or image is more powerful than strings of words or images in search of the best; be mindful of repetition and stating the obvious; start in the middle and so on. Most important—know that other people you trust as readers/editors will see these craft points much better than you in your work, so seek others’ thoughts; while maintaining the integrity of your intent and your writing process.
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