Today’s installment in our Interviews With Women Writers series features Millennial writer Marissa Miller, who gives awesome advice on going after the career you want. Her writing resume is an impressive one, with bylines in Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan and The Washington Post! But that’s not so surprising when you see her amazing drive and determination to write and tell stories. Here’s Marissa story…
Tell me a bit about yourself. What do you do, what are your hobbies, etc.?
I’m a freelance journalist writing for publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, Vogue and Cosmopolitan. On the side, I talk about things like Resting Bitch Face and millennial dating and technology trends on the radio, and I’ve just put the final touches on my manuscript for a non-fiction book about how we need to talk more openly about mental health issues as a way of eradicating it, which sounds depressing but it’s actually heavy in toilet humor and dad jokes. I’m currently trying to advance in my yoga practice on a mat I bought at the Dollar store, which is a metaphor for pretty much everything. I enjoy running, reading and putting Snapchat filters on my cat’s face.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it always something you wanted to do?
I was born knowing I wanted to be a writer the same way many people are born into a religion or a culture or a gender identity. There were times I tried self-inflicting conversion therapy by enrolling in physics and chemistry classes, but I was miserable. I’d write poems in the margins of my notebooks and I think having me in those classes was just an all-around fire hazard.
What writers/books did you admire growing up?
I read lots of YA fiction like the Shopaholics series, everything in Louise Rennison’s repertoire like Angus, Thongs and every word John Green has ever written. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes profoundly shaped my worldview, so if you haven’t read it, get on that.
I always got very sad when some of my favorite books ended. At around 11 years old, I took up writing to ensure I was constantly interacting with and exploring new ideas. I’d create new characters to distract myself from what it feels like to mourn the loss of a beloved character in a book.
Then I got really into philosophy-type stuff like Alain de Boton, Chuck Klosterman, Haruki Murakami and the ever-whimsical Miranda July. Incidentally, most of my favorite writing is from female comedians like Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer and powerful feminist types like Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Lindy West. I’ve read every word on every shampoo bottle and cereal box I’ve ever owned.
What is most rewarding for you as a writer?
Tons of high school and university students reach out to me and tell me I empower them in some way. The world is a super lonely place and I want my writing to provide comfort for those who are kind of confused or disoriented. Based on certain feedback, I’ve achieved that goal.
What issues do you think women face as writers?
That our writing needs fit neatly within little boxes. Scientists are still trying to figure women out, so it’s a little jarring when we occupy various spaces. Surprise! We can talk about chipped manicures, butt workouts and the presidential campaign all in the same breath without being walking contradictions, but rather multilayered — and not because we are wearing Spanx.
What is one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were just starting out?
I pretty much ignored every single piece of advice I got from teachers or mentors and trusted my gut. A guidance counselor in high school told me not to enroll in journalism because it’s a task-based program as opposed to English literature, which is more academic. That didn’t feel right to me. You can’t be a good journalist unless you’re on the field. Reading Shakespeare will help me on Jeopardy, but it won’t help me tell stories.
A lot of people discouraged me from studying journalism because it’s not a steady or structured career path. The program director at my university’s open house wasn’t very welcoming either. Being the angry teen I was, I accepted that as a challenge.
We are so skeptical about the idea of breeding a new wave of journalists, so young people don’t feel it’s worth it to invest themselves in producing good stories. There’s still this stigma attached to being a writer, so you have these kids quietly writing in the margins of their notebooks (hi!) and building Tumblr blogs with private settings. Teens: enroll in journalism, write for the school paper, and wear your bylines as proudly as you would that new Sephora purchase.
What would you tell aspiring writers today?
Don’t only write what you know. If I stuck to what I know, my portfolio would consist entirely of kale chip recipes. My reporting assignments have given me another degree’s worth of education — I’ve written about real estate, politics, finance, science and medicine, travel, technology, gender issues and sexual assault. Trust yourself. You may learn you love sports or municipal politics if you give it a shot.
If you don’t love the niche at first, find a hook you do care about. Think about the human angle behind it. If you feel connected to the idea, your audience will, too.
How do you think advances in technology have changed the profession, either good or bad?
I recognize the privilege inherent in being able to look up a source’s contact information and get a hold of them immediately. That element of instant gratification means two things: first, we’ve gotten a little complacent and I’m seeing tons of recycled and even flat-out plagiarized content. Secondly, social media platforms have shrunk the Earth and created a deep sense of intimacy like the world is one big chat room, so I’m seeing a lot of fresh personal narratives in place of hard news from people who might have otherwise been too shy to write. I’m seeing a more diverse range of voices than we did 10 years ago and besides the few trolls in the proverbial comments section, we’re generally more tolerant. We still have tons of work to do, though.
Is there anything else you think I should know?
Writing can be a very isolating process, so try to attend workshops, book launches and readings. Don’t feel bogged down by the pressure to be constantly interacting with other writers or reaching out for support. The best ideas happen when you’re just living.
What wonderful advice and inspiration, Marissa! Be sure to read more Interviews With Women Writers! I’d love to keep this series going, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with ideas or if you’d like to be interviewed! We women have to stick together, right?!?!? xoxo