Melissa Febos


by Mira Ptacin
April 13, 2011

On inspiration & literary domination


1. What is your writing routine?
When I’m not teaching an outrageous number of classes (as I am this semester), I write about 4 – 5 days a week. I write for about three hours, take a break (lunch, walk the dog, go for a run, it depends), then work for a couple more hours. Unless I’m up to the elbows in a draft that’s really rolling, I’m pretty cooked after five hours. I always have a hot drink in the winter, a cold drink in the summer – I don’t smoke while I write, or drink alcohol ever, but I need something to reach for when I’m untangling a knot in the narrative. Usually I listen to music when I write, but not always, and always quietly.

2. What is your definition of “truth” in terms of writing creative nonfiction?

I just try to be as honest as I can, in as many ways as I’m able. I scour my memory, keep the important bits, and then scour my heart to understand what I’m holding.

3. What is the biggest nemesis to your creative spirit?


4. What do you hope people take away from your writing?

There’s this little sound that I make when I read something good, or when someone says something I like a lot; it’s between a sigh and a grunt–a little gutteral sort of purr.  It happens involuntarily when I am struck by something that’s beautiful, or true, or funny. Often all three. When I’m satisfied and surprised at the same time. I hope that my work gives people that feeling.  I can’t really stay away from uncomfortable topics, but I don’t want to induce discomfort; just the opposite. When I read an acknowledgment of some discomfort I already know, but in a private unspoken way, it gives me a lot of comfort.


5. What writers have inspired you the most, and why?
Well, I wouldn’t be a writer if I hadn’t been a reader as a kid. Books were my life. It doesn’t really matter which ones, only that I was so hypnotized by them. Today, I’m most inspired by the people in my life, who just keep getting up again and again, and running at the best truth they know how to write (or paint or film or sing or sculpt). It’s pretty amazing. Life doesn’t really care about accommodating the writer (artist). There are a lot of compelling reasons to stop writing. It’s kind of a miracle that some of us don’t. But thank god.


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Melissa Febos is the author of the memoir, WHIP SMART. Her writing has been published in The Southeast Review, Redivider, Dissent, The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, and Bitch Magazine, among many others, and she has been profiled in venues ranging from the cover of the NY Post to NPR’s Fresh Air. Recently named one of “Five New Queer Voices to Watch Out For” by Lambda Literary, she is the winner of the Memoirs, Ink half-yearly contest, and a 2010 MacDowell Colony fellow. She teaches at Purchase College, Sarah Lawrence, The New School, and NYU, and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence. She is currently at work on a novel.