A writer like you: Jacqueline Masumian
Meet Jacqueline Masumian, an actress, performing arts manager, landscape designer, and now author.
Her memoir, Nobody Home, published in 2013, is about growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a troubled and difficult mother. Her short stories, several of which have been published in literary journals, present flawed people in trying circumstances. When not writing stories, blog posts, or short reviews on Goodreads.com, Jacque can often be found working in her Connecticut garden, usually pulling weeds. She is also an avid reader, some of her favorite authors being Alice McDermott, Kate Atkinson, Elizabeth Strout, Alice Munro, and Kent Haruf.
You’ll love Jacqueline’s thoughts on personalizing your definition of writer success, listening to improve your dialogue skills, and establishing an effective writing routine.
Let’s dive in to the interview, shall we?
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I loved writing as a child and in high school, but in college I put it aside in favor of other interests, primarily singing and acting. Years passed, and there was always something else I was involved in. Then at the ripe old age of sixty, I finally got back to writing as a new mode of self-expression, and I put my whole heart into it. Developing and publishing my memoir was an enlightening experience, and my current passion is creating short fiction. Quite a few of my stories have been published in literary journals.
What have you learned about writing so far?
It requires discipline—to make the time for it and to keep the creative juices flowing. Writing can be difficult at times, especially getting a piece as close to perfection as possible. But mainly, writing is engaging and fun.
Why are reading and writing so important to you?
I firmly believe that both reading good literature and writing (hopefully good literature) stir a writer’s empathy toward others. And what more valuable quality can there be, especially in these stressful times? Writing for me is also a means of creative expression, communicating my ideas about the often-unjust world we live in, aging, and facing the ultimate outcome.
How do you define writer success?
I’ve come to learn, especially after having some of my work accepted for publication, that success is NOT how many books or stories you’ve had published, although that is certainly very gratifying. Real success is more personal than that. It may be about the self-satisfaction of knowing you’re a creative human being. Or it might be the sense of joy you get from those sparks of imagination and memory that strike you from time to time and won’t let you go until you write them down. If you have something to say in your writing and are published, and your readers benefit from embracing your ideas, that’s so much the better. But overall, if you find joy in writing, that is success. Hey, writing should be fun!
Do you have any tips for writing strong dialogue?
Listen, listen, listen. To conversations in your household, at the diner, in the supermarket, wherever people talk. Eavesdrop on phone conversations, too. The rhythms and cadences of people’s speech will guide you. And it’s important to remember that dialogue should never be just conversation. Every bit of dialogue needs to function, either to reveal character or to move the story forward.
Do you have any tips for overcoming writer’s block?
This question gets asked a lot of writers, and many of them believe, as I do, that writer’s block is a myth. As long as you have a pen or pencil or keyboard, you can write something, even if it is gibberish. If you feel stuck, just scribble—about what you had for breakfast, the ache in your toe, the sounds you are hearing right at that moment. Anything to get your creative brain cells in gear. What you write may be off topic, but eventually your brain will get back in the groove, or if it doesn’t, then, well, you’ve written something goofy or tender or profound, just for fun. Whatever it is, your subconscious will spur you forward to some meaningful scene or to a new idea. Trust that and your imagination!
Describe your typical writing process or routine.
I am adamant about writing as early in the day as possible, before interruptions and distractions muddle my concentration. I want to be in writer mode in the morning by nine or ten o’clock. While some writers find 4 a.m. a good time to write, for me, well, I just can’t get out of bed at that hour. Though, actually, I often do compose a story in my head while lying awake at about that time. In fact, some of my best short stories have come to me that way!
I write all my first drafts longhand. The movement of my hand guiding a pencil on a piece of paper is essential to me, giving me an organic connection to the brain work. Later I transcribe the piece onto the computer where I do my edits, though often I’ll do the first go-around of edits longhand, as well.
In order to write I require a quiet, private space free of extraneous noise, even music. If I can work in that environment for a solid two hours, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and I’m done for the day. I try to write Monday through Friday, like it’s a job, even if some days I write only a portion of a blog post or a lengthy email; at least my writer brain is active for some part of every day. Of course, I am a retired person, so having this schedule is easier for me than for many.
What writing advice would you give other writers like yourself?
1) Find the joy in exercising your creative brain to put together words and sentences and paragraphs that will keep a reader engaged. 2) Read, read, read quality authors. 3) Enjoy the process!
What are your current writing goals, and how do you plan to achieve them?
I will continue to write new stories and submit them regularly to journals. But I am also going to compile all my short stories into one file, then cull them to create a manuscript suitable for publication, either by an indie publisher or that old standby, Self.
What authors or books are inspiring you lately?
Anne Lamott’s most recent book, Almost Everything, is a gem. She writes about hope in these troubled times and has a special chapter on writing that I feel is so valuable. I highly recommend this lovely little book.
Where can we connect with you?
You visit, read my stories and blog posts, and comment on my website.
To free the writer today, let’s spend a day listening to improve our dialogue skills. You can go to a cafe and listen to strangers (but try not to be too creepy). You can listen to examples of dialogue in movies or read example from your favorite books. Or simply listen more to your family and friends. Feel free to share what you learn from this exercise in the comments below.
I can’t wait to see what we discover,