Micheline Maynard

How did you become a writer?

I can't remember when I didn't write. Ever since I was about eight years old, I have always kept a notebook full of thoughts, drawings and observations. My first published work came when I was 10 years old. I wrote an essay about my hamster for a county weekly newspaper, and was paid $10. I settled on journalism as a profession as a senior in college and it's been full speed ahead ever since. I've moved beyond news stories to every kind of writing there is, from blog posts and essays to long-form and of course, books. When people ask me what I do, it gives me enormous pleasure to answer, "I'm a writer."

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

I am a big fan of Alice Munro's short stories. Her economy and sense of detail are awe-inspiring. David McCullough is a master of lyrical non-fiction. I regularly re-read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I appreciate Stephen King's On Writing. I have a worn out copy of the Modern Library Writer's Workshop. When it comes to broadcast writing, my greatest influence was the late David Candow, known in public radio as "the host whisperer." And of course, @AdvicetoWriters. 

When and where do you write?

I write from home, usually on the sofa or sitting up against a big stack of pillows on my bed. I have an office, but I mainly use it to print things out and scan them. Occasionally, I write sections of books or stories on the Notes app on my iPhone (this is great when I'm sitting alone in restaurants or at the bar, and get struck by an idea). I write every day, not because I make myself do so but because I simply love to write. I'm a night owl, so I do a lot of my best writing from about 11 pm to 2 am. I like to keep daytime to evening free for research, interviews and dining around.

What are you working on now? 

My journalism can be found on Forbes.com, the home of my food and business blog; Medium, where I am writing about women's issues; and ABC Australia, where I write essays about American news topics. I am finishing a book on restaurants and immigrants, inspired by a family story that my mother told me shortly before she died in 2015 at age 102. It's completely different than any of my journalism, and it has been delightful to dive into a subject that touches so many people.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I have had moments of writer's block, but I've always felt it is what happens when you haven't done enough research, or are bored by your topic. I have tricks to force myself out of it. One is simply to write what I've got, just a paragraph at a time. Eventually, there are enough paragraphs that you can string them together and find transitions, and before you know it, you have a story or a chapter.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I attended a writer's conference once with Julia Alvarez, author of How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Julia said she always carries a notebook with her, and jots down little things she observes, like a girl in a red coat or a train crossing a deserted street. She takes those tidbits and turns them into details for her books. I do the same, either in a little Moleskine or on my phone. I've gotten numerous story ideas that way.

What’s your advice to new writers?

New writers need to read, listen and pay attention. Don't pretend to be an expert. Look it up. Ask questions. Be curious. Chat with people. Remember their stories. Understand that while you may be talented, you may not be good yet - and even when you are, the growing doesn't stop. You can always improve. And try not to put yourself into the story, unless your perspective can really add something. Let the subject of your story be the star.

Micheline Maynard is an alumna of The New York Times and NPR. She is the author of The End of Detroit: How The Big Three Lost Their Grip On The American Car Market (Crown Business) and five other books. She is a lecturer at the University of Michigan and divides her time between Ann Arbor and New Orleans.