And now a featured writer at Segullah. This quarter Meg joins us to share some writing and about her writing life. I’m enchanted with her ready delight, quick wit, easy candor, and hearty amens. As lovely as she is in print, she’s even more charming in person. Go swoon in person as she speaks at the upcoming Dialogue Conference this month.
Meg Conley, please tell us about your writing and what lead you to it?
I don’t ever remember *not* wanting to write. In the second grade, we had a career day – everyone wanted to be astronauts and doctors and ballerinas. I drew a picture of myself with a pencil in my hand. It’s funny that I wanted to write for a living, because I was a “late-bloomer” when it came to reading. I couldn’t really get through a book by myself until the end of first grade.
I remember the first book I read on my own. We were on a drive up to Big Bear and my parents had given me one of those easy reader chapter books to entertain me on the drive. It was about Pompeii and it took me the entire winding way up the mountain to finish it. I remember reading the last word and looking at the last picture and thinking – everything is different now. I don’t know if it was the seriousness of the subject – people being buried in volcanic ash will stick with you as a six year old – but the world really seemed both more alive and more fleeting after that book. I guess I had a sense that there were lots of stories that came before me that needed telling and that there would be lots that came after me that needed telling and I thought, “Well, why don’t I tell them?” Of course, the subjects and words are all so much harder to come by than six year old me ever imagined… but the wonder I felt driving up that mountain is still there and so I keep writing as best I can.
What writing advice do you give yourself?
Just write! Which is about as eloquent as I get about anything I find both challenging and rewarding. Just Mother! Just Wife! Just Love! Just Live! The only writing exercise that has ever been effective for me is simply sitting down to write. I don’t do prompts, I don’t do word counts, I don’t do nearly *anything* to measure the success of a writing session. I just write.
What writers inspire you?
Ah! So, so many. How to choose? Shall we stick with people writing now? Fiona Givens immediately comes to mind. She’s been a mentor and friend and she’s shown me that motherhood and writerhood can, in fact, co-exist. I’ve been buoyed for the same reason by the example of Shannon Hale. She’s raising her babies and raising her dreams at the same time. It can be done! Others that come to mind, Marilyn Robinson, Helen Macdonald, and I kid you not, Stephen King. King! I don’t care for his fiction, but his book “On Writing” is exquisite and absolutely changed my writerly life. And, if we can mention just one dead author, E.B White. I adore him in the latin sense, adorare – to worship. That man and his essays have my entire heart.
Tell me about your writing process. Is there a ritual, place or time that helps you write regularly and at your best?
I give myself permission to “close the door” on everything else when I write. I do this by setting up my computer at a favorite coffee shop, ordering tea and making sure the music piping through my headphones is loud enough to nearly damage my ears. And then I just get going for as much time as my life (and the owner of the coffee shop) will give me. Sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes it’s five. I am trying to learn to be grateful for (and effective with) the time I have.
Do you bribe yourself to meet a deadline? If so, how so?
I do! But never effectively. I don’t think I am the reward based creature I once thought I was. I work best last minute, which helps mitigate my deadline aversion. But mostly, this is an area of my life that continues to beg for improvement.
What is the easiest thing to write?
Whatever I am being challenged by at that very moment! Mostly, I write to free my insides of the things that stick to them. Writing is the way I process the world and my place in it. I’d like to say it is cheaper than therapy but those three dollar teas I have every day while I write beg to differ.
You specialize in tricky topics: womanhood, motherhood, marriage, faith and sex; is there anything you won’t write about?
You know…I’ve been asked this before and the answer is pretty much, “No.” I’ll put words to anything that moves me to write. Listen, I don’t think we should be ashamed of thoughts or ideas or the kind of discussion we’re willing to engage in. If something feels true, I’ll write it.
How do you balance writing so much about your personal life and safe guarding it?
If a personal moment can illustrate a universal point, I’ll often mine it, especially if it belongs to exclusively to me. It may not seem like it, but I do have boundaries when it comes to writing about my personal life and the personal lives of those I love. My husband is crazy supportive. He has this belief in my voice that supersedes anything my voice is *actually* capable of saying. He thinks I should write whatever I want about whatever I want. Which is nice in theory, but there are limits as to the exposure I ask my family to endure. Most of their lives go unwritten – mainly because it’s their story to write, not my own.
How has your faith shaped your writing or vice versa?
My interior spiritual life is *the* reason I write. It gives me permission to believe my words can have worth and it gives my contributions a sense of endurance. I write because I feel compelled to and the compulsion has nothing of the physical about it. For me, it’s not that I write and so I am a spiritual being. Rather, I am a spiritual being and so I must write. I think many of us feel this way when it comes to whatever our callings are in this life.
What piece of writing has gotten you the most attention?
Oh my gosh. BY FAR my piece on having sex with your spouse every night. My goodness. Last time a Huffington Post editor emailed me about it, it had been liked almost two million times on Facebook.
Did you expect it or was it a surprise?
SUCH a surprise. Everyone is writing about sex all the time! I thought my article would just be blip on the steam-filled landscape. But, at least at the time, very few people were writing about married sex, let alone the fact it could be fun and pleasurable and routine. So, it took off. I always joked that if I had written about having sex with a different man every night, no one would have cared. But write about having sex with the same man – the one you are married to! – every night? Suddenly you’re trending worldwide and half the people who read it are calling you names. It was a wild – sometimes scary – ride.
What piece do you wish had more?
Almost every other one I have written! Ha! They are like my babies and even the ugly ones need love. The one that comes to mind immediately is The Lost Woman. It’s more reflective of my writing and my current state of mind.
What advice can you offer others for marketing themselves and their writing?
Oh my goodness. I need to be better at this myself. Produce the best writing you can – no matter the venue or subject. I once heard Phillip Seymour Hoffman say that an acting teacher told him to approach each role like it was the best of his career – even if the role was just fifteen seconds in a breakfast cereal commercial. The thinking is that by treating every step of your career development with respect, more breakthroughs (and more and more respectable roles) will come your way. It obviously worked for Hoffman, he was one of the best actors of his generation. I try to do this with my writing. From copy for small websites to ghostwriting speeches to articles that will be published nationally, I’ve always tried to deliver my very best work. And when you do your best work sometimes the other stuff – the clicks, the emails from editors – work themselves out for you. And, of course, sometimes they don’t. And when they don’t, there are things you can do! Reach out to sites that aggregate articles and ask them to feature your work, they are always looking for more content! Ask friends on social media to share your latest piece. Heaven knows you’ve commented on enough of their food photos to have earned a favor here and there. And never, ever feel ashamed of asking people to read your work. It deserves to have eyes on it!
What are you working on right now?
Don’t tell anyone. But. With both kids in school and several hours of writing time a day, I’ve finally decided to tackle writing a book. But I am supremely superstitious and so can’t talk about it without draining the whole project of life. Like, I’ve probably already said too much. It might be dead.
Looking forward, what would you like to do creatively that you haven’t yet?
I want to write a book or, while we are dreaming, books! And I keep toying with the idea of a podcast. I used to be on the radio every week and I miss connecting with women that way. It was an amazing way to reach out and be reached. So. We’ll see. That might be next.
Anything else you’d like to share with our audience of writers and readers?
Ah! First gratitude. The fact that anyone reads what I write – and finds worth there – will never cease to be a source of grace and wonder to me. And second, I guess I’d just want to offer eaffirmation of what I am sure your wise readers already know. They are star-filled beings and we are blessed to bask in their light. Truly, truly blessed. I’m sitting here in this coffee shop with my three dollar mint tea tearing up over their goodness. My goodness
Meg will be with us through November with more goodness and more writing offer. This month she shares The Love of God as a featured writing in our September Journal.