How did you become a writer?
I grew up on a lake in a small town in Connecticut, and supposedly it was built over an Indian burial ground. Who knows if that’s true or not, but it was enough to charge my imagination. I used to write stories about kids who lived in the murky depths. What can I say? I loved books by R.L. Stine and more traditional ghost stories.
I became a writer when I became a reader. From early on, I felt like writing was a superpower. Words did have a power—and literature became a kind of religion for me. I wrote Babysitters Club fan fiction in which I inserted myself as a character. I made up my own mythological tale after reading the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.
I think the moment I really realized I was a writer was in high school. I read an (admittedly) terrible poem to my classmates, and afterward one of them told me I was really talented. The fact that I could move someone I wasn’t even friends with (or related to!) meant the world to me.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf. Have I mentioned Virginia Woolf? I wasn’t even a fan of hers until a couple of years ago. I first read Mrs. Dalloway when I was an undergraduate, and for some reason the book didn’t resonate with me. I could kick myself, but I’ve realized that certain books can’t be appreciated until the right time in our lives. I read The Waves on a friend’s recommendation, and I felt like the whole world opened up to me in a way I had never seen it before. Her sentences can momentarily knock the wind out of you. The way she writes about the interior life is extraordinary: “How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”—from The Waves.
I think she’s the greatest writer of all time.
Other influences: Roald Dahl, Marcel Proust, Joan Didion, George Eliot, Fernando Pessoa, Paul Harding, Marilynne Robinson, Ali Smith, Jeanette Winterson, Kate Zambreno, Mary Ruefle, and Valeria Luiselli. (I could go on and on!)
When and where do you write?
I really like writing at a local bar that’s more of a café during the day. They have long picnic tables and good cappuccinos and the music isn’t over-whelmingly loud. I also like to write in bed or on the chaise lounge. My favorite time to write is in the afternoon or late at night, when I can ignore my inbox and social media for a while.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a memoir about fictional characters and their influence on me. I’m also working on a bunch of personal essays.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Of course! Every single day. Sometimes I’d rather vacuum or empty the dishwasher or respond to emails I’ve been putting off rather than sit down with my own thoughts for a while. I have to push through that resistance all the time.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Many writers give this advice, but that’s because it’s true: you have to write as if you are just writing for yourself. If you are only thinking about the end result (getting published) you will find endless ways to self-sabotage. I spent a year struggling to find the right voice for the book I’m currently writing, and I had to scrap what I wrote and start all over again. That laborious effort was worth it, in the end. Have patience. Be good to yourself. Write what you need to say. Write what you have to say. Read as many books as you can.
Michele Filgate is an essayist, critic, and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, The Rumpus, Salon, Buzzfeed, Poets & Writers, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Time Out New York, The Daily Beast, O,The Oprah Magazine, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Capital New York, The Star Tribune, Bookslut, The Quarterly Conversation, The Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn.