Julie Schumacher

How did you become a writer?

I can think of several different narrative threads that would answer that question, including:

a) I had a roll-top desk in an empty closet when I was growing up, and when I sat at that desk with the pull-chain light-bulb burning straight overhead, I felt mysterious and literary;

b) Writing things down always seemed to me the best remedy for not being able to explain, face to face, what I thought or how I felt;

c)  Kind people encouraged me.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Teachers, teachers. I didn't do terribly well in school when I was young, in part because I was often daydreaming and staring out windows, wondering about other people's more interesting lives; but beginning in high school I had several teachers -- marvelous, eccentric, powerful women -- who paid attention to and took seriously the poems and musings that I put down on paper. I started to fall in love with words, and to understand what they were capable of, and how endless were the ways in which they could be rearranged, combined, deployed. 

I don't think I'd met a flesh-and-blood writer until I was in college, and then one day when I was 19 or 20, Eudora Welty sat down in the chair beside me in a creative writing classroom in Ohio, and it was as if Zeus and Athena had taken their places at the seminar table. I so loved Welty's brand of story-telling, steeped in family and setting and dialogue and painful humor. For similar reasons (though they're very different sorts of writers) I was drawn to Donald Barthelme and Evan Connell and Grace Paley and Jane Austen and Tobias Wolff and Tolstoy and Garcia Marquez and Anne Tyler and Lorrie Moore: character and wit. That's what I read for, and that's what I aim for in my writing.

When and where do you write?

Post-coffee, I try to write for several hours in the morning, before the students or email or the day manage to fasten their respective hooks in me. But I'm not as disciplined as I would like to be, and I am always amazed to hear about writers who stay at their desks for hours each day, and write every day without fail. How do they do it? Do they not have dentist appointments, car problems, friends in crisis, or children?

As for where I write: that varies. The magic of a particular spot can wear off, and then I go in search of the next new place: a library, a coffee shop, the kitchen table. I generally write by hand, in a composition notebook, so I am very portable.

What are you working on now?

A novel as well as a collection of stories -- but that's as descriptive as I want to be at this point. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

That term strikes me as oddly mystical -- the counterpart, I guess, of the muse. Some days I feel like I'm writing well (but I don't sense the presence of a muse), and some days the writing goes very badly (but that doesn't feel like a "block" to me -- it just feels like bad prose). I like Chuck Close's motto: "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work." I've had plenty of workdays that involved tearing up the previous day's efforts, or even the previous month's or year's pages. But I try to tell myself that's part of the process. If writing books were easy, everyone would have a shelf-load of volumes to his or her credit.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Fitting the writing into your life is part of the battle. And don't forget to enjoy it. Writing is often a challenge and a struggle, but it should offer up rewards and surprises every now and then, too. 

Julie Schumacher is the author of Dear Committee Members (Doubleday, 2014) and seven other books, including the PEN/Hemingway finalist, The Body Is Water. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic and The New York Times, and in the Best American Short Stories and the O. Henry Awards collections. She teaches at the University of Minnesota.