Nick McLellan: Why I Write

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve gone gaga for the National Day on Writing, which we’re celebrating with our buds the National Writing Project, the New York Times Learning Network, and Edutopia.

In addition to asking writers why they write, we want to hear a little more about how, what, and where they write, and so from now until the Big Day (October 20!) we’ll be asking some of our favorite writers—a mix of pros and Figs alike—to tell us a bit more about their writing processes.

Today we hear from Nick McLellan, slam poet extraordinaire, active Figmenter, and college freshman.

How did you become a writer? When did you first start thinking of yourself as a writer?

NM: I think I became a writer in the 10th grade. At one point I had a story stuck in my head that I needed to write out. That story became my first short story; it was roughly five to six pages. I don’t want to brag or anything, but it was terrible. Despite the quality of the product, I loved the process and it wasn’t until 12th grade when I placed 2nd in the Oklahoma City Thunder Slam Poetry competition that I started thinking of myself as a writer as opposed to one who writes.

What are the things you’re most proud of having written, from any time in your life?

NM: The first piece of writing that I found immense pride in was the slam poem I performed at the Oklahoma City Thunder Slam Poetry competition, I am Unstoppable. I wrote the poem around the end of my junior year, but I didn’t perform it until that competition senior year. While the crowd was able to chuckle early on at scrawny, twig-armed me challenging that I am unstoppable, by the end I felt the ultimate message that all it takes to feel unstoppable is to have someone believe in you set in. Furthermore, it was the first time my parents ever heard me perform my writing, and that was a pretty amazing feeling.

The next poem I was proud of was the second slam poem I wrote and performed about five months ago for the Figment Slam Poetry Contest, Something about Love. I recorded myself performing the poem, in front of a purple bed sheet draped from the ceiling, with my laptop webcam and accompanied my performance with a recording of me playing the ukulele. My video ended up winning the competition and more importantly made a few people smile.

The poem I think I’m the most proud of was a bit of a task. I finished a poem called Gus this summer, but I started late January. It was an on and off writing project about Gus Grissom, an astronaut on Apollo 1. Probably one of the longest poems I’ve wrote, I chronicled glimpses of his of life into stanzas. It was the most rewarding feeling to type in that final stanza.

How would you describe your writing process? That is, how do you usually research, write, revise, edit? What routines help, and what challenges do you regularly face?

NM: My writing has always been spontaneous. Every poem I’ve written over the past couple of years has started as a note in my phone. Then whenever I feel the creative juices flowing I choose one note and turn it into a fully-fledged poem. Then I proceed to think of nothing but that poem (especially while in class) for about a week, make notes of revisions in my phone, and revise, revise, revise until I’m proud. The biggest challenges I’ve found lately have been either a lack of creative juices or a workload too heavy to find time to write. Both of which can only be remedied by patience.

What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve ever written about or researched for a writing project?

I think the most interesting thing I ever wrote was a short story called A Response to Kafka, which was an argument against Kafka’s Metamorphosis’ portrayal of human nature. By changing the protagonist to a teenager I argued that people, especially family, can care for each other despite abrupt changes, even if the protagonist doesn’t initially realize it.

How do outside forces influence or shape your writing? (For instance, your audience, editors, teachers, things you read, etc.)

NM: One of the bigger influences on my writing has always been the authors that motivated me to write, or made me enjoy a new style of writing. Looking at my older writing, I can see the attempted emulation of J.D. Salinger. If I look at my original poetry, I notice stanzas of Anis Mojgani or Robbie Q. Telfer. The biggest influence however, was my high school English teacher junior and senior year, Kathy Woods. As cliché as it sounds, she taught me everything I know, or at least everything about writing I hold dear.

Why do you write?

NM: Writing can show you who you are or how you feel if you’re ever uncertain, but mainly writing makes me happy.

Hungering for more author Q&As? Visit the New York Times Learning Network and National Writing Project. Then head over to the Forums to post your own burning writerly questions to any of the authors featured on the site. We’ll post answers to the questions after October 20. And of course, be sure to let us know why you write . . .


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