1. Why do I write?
I think every writer has been asked this at one time or another. The answer I hear most often is something along the lines of “I was born to write” or some such. I wasn’t. I was born to acquire, sustain, and procreate. Writing is something that came along for me later in life. There was foreshadowing, however. I collected broken pencils on the playground. I was an advanced reader, etc., etc. I kept a journal in school, only because Ms. Boyd, my Sophomore English teacher, threatened to fail us if we didn’t. I began writing in earnest when I moved to Minnesota 21 years ago in a fit of wanderlust, leaving behind my southern upbringing in a cloud of exhaust. I wanted to record my thoughts on this new adventure. I met a poetry editor in town who encouraged me to submit. The rest is my ongoing narrative.
2. What is my writing process?
I’m not sure how to answer this. I write, every chance I get – at the bar, on the train, on stolen coffee breaks at work, at home after dinner. I try to balance out being a good father, husband, and friend, but it’s a slippery slope. I usually have certain projects I can take up when it’s time to write, like Holler, my memoir-in-progress or a poem. Often it is just from-the-hip journaling to keep the wheels greased. I liken it to panning for gold. You gotta’ put a lot of dirt through a lot of screens to hope to find something shiny you can use.
3. Have you ever written something you didn’t want to write, but others encouraged you?
No. I write what I want.
4. How do you feel when you are writing?
Baudelaire, right? Drunk. “…On poetry, wine, virtue, whatever.” Writing is a high. When I started, every poem was a hit, doing lines that became stanzas that left me dizzy and staring at some moon. Later, it grew. I became a pusher, too. I still get off on the process, but I like getting others high as well. After a while, you get tired of drinking alone.
5. How do you feel when other writers give you negative feedback, critiques?
I love it. It shows someone actually paid attention and gave it more attention than “That’s beautiful.” I have little patience for precious souls who crumble at a critical word on their work. When did we get so fragile? It’s opinion, people, and more than that it is a win-win scenario. You get negative feedback. Step One: If it’s vague, ask for specifics. If they can’t, let it go. If they can produce them, listen. Apply them and see if you agree. You are the creator and curator of your work. Do your due diligence. If you agree with said critique, either apply it (if the work is a draft) or keep it in mind for your next piece. Either way, it’s valuable information that can potentially strengthen your work. You’re not going to please everyone. That’s just silly. I’ve been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and I’ve been told I’d “never write anything good.” I figure I’m in the middle. I’m good with that.
6. What discourages you most when it comes to writing, and how do you overcome it?
I sometimes read pieces that convince me that great authors are from different planets than my own. Maybe they’re just made of different stardust. Maybe I’m just a mongrel to the core. After a while, I decided to give up caring about that great divide and started using everything I read as a tool to inform my work. We aren’t in a vacuum. Everything you encounter can be converted into usable material, if you approach it that way. I write, and sometimes I get published. That’s good enough for me.
7. Have you ever published anything?
Yes. In 2012 I got a wild hair and wanted to see how many times I could get published. It was a game. I wrote like crazy, researched my venues, and submitted methodically. I was published 19 times that year. Skol! To date, I have two published chapbooks and numerous works you can find online.
The Tequila Chronicles (ca. 2005, self-published).
I Want to Look Like Henry Bataille (2006, Little Poem Press).
Mostly, my published work is a piece here and there. You can keep up with them at “Sometimes Things Get Published.”
NOTE from VIGA BOLAND:
Thanks so much Michael for your fascinating views on your writing process. I love your “writer’s voice”: it comes through loud and clear both in your answers here, and in the wonderful 2-part piece you podcast for us on our sister site, MEMOIRABILIA, sometime back, titled “Confessions on a work in Progress”. I hope readers of this column will check that out too, as well as leave you some comments here beneath this post. Thanks for contributing.