How did you become a writer?
To me becoming a writer means consistently creating work while using the process as a laboratory for observation. Learning how to observe people and understand more of the human experience is part of the process; equally important is learning how to look at one’s self alongside the work-in-progress with a balance of compassion and growth-orientation.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
My most important influence is the natural world: being outside alone or with a quiet beloved friend. Then: art and literature, especially where the two intersect. Text and image. Visual artists and their writing about process—I’m thinking about Anne Truitt’s Daybook or Van Gogh’s letters. The trove of writers’ minds at work: The Paris Review interviews, artists talks, lectures, readings, classes. Henry James on craft. Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel. My teachers. Especially those who keep saying you can do this. I imagine I’ll always want to have teachers.
When and where do you write?
I write in the morning in my office in complete silence. I write in my friends’ apartments. I teach during the day and in the evening I revise at bars and restaurants where I enjoy my manuscript as companion and the noisy backdrop helps keep demons at bay. I bring back-up books in case my companion goes silent or weird. The most productive writing time might be in the blocks between semesters when one can manage to at least partially hide away for days or weeks at a time.
What are you working on now?
Better not to say and to work instead. Am I a superstitious? Shy? Stingy? I’m not sure. I love to hear what other people are working on but for me it’s better not to talk about content because talking makes me feel my contact with what’s urgent behind the writing slackens.
By way of process, I’m working on learning more about structure. What creates momentum and progression? And, I’m working on learning how to better help my students move more deeply into a place of unknowing and tolerate uncertainty for longer and longer.
My friend, the painter Valerie Larko, paints complex landscapes en plein air, over a period often of months or even years. She has a morning painting going and an afternoon painting going (because of the light). She does small “car paintings” with her travel easel on the steering wheel. (When the weather is bad.) I try to teach and practice a process that adapts to changing conditions, internal and external.
We must be able to work on more than two fronts.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Fear, depression, lack of knowledge of self and process—these things separate one from one’s work. I’m a religious person. I seek to address such separations with reverence and humility, and engage these things with questions, along with, I hope, some patience (and humor?) now that I’m old. There are many things to worry about and the worrying itself can become a habit and be very sticky.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Hush. Eric Maisel.
Show a lot, tell a little, never explain. Phillip Lopate. Dinty Moore.
Have someone waiting for your pages. Wallace Stevens.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Welcome! Please tell me more.
Heather Sellers is the author of You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, a memoir, Georgia Under Water, short stories, and, most recently, The Practice of Creative Writing, a textbook for beginners in any genre. Her recent essays appear in The Sun, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, and The New York Times. A Florida native, she teaches in the MFA program at the University of South Florida.