Be Inspired by Julia Munroe Martin

I love postcards. In a tight space, they convey an entire world — scene, character, story. They engage the imagination with brevity and spunk. They make us curious, offering up a slice of life, begging the invention of  remainders.

Great writers do the same. If you are familiar with Julia Munroe Martin, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Writing from the coast of Maine, Julia is a master of the literary postcard. Sometimes, she might write about arugula. Or her hairdresser. Or the GPS. She can tell you about crows or the lure of social media. In The Police Beat, she tries to apprehend an apple-blossom thief without landing in the local paper. In The Mystery of the Blue Bags, Julia’s curiosity leads her husband to the trash bin. In Pancakes with Pete, her eavesdropping habit makes a humor feast of blueberries and oatmeal.

Julia’s curiosity, her love of language, and her inventive approach to any situation always lift me up. I’m extremely honored to have her as a guest today.

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How Will I Write It?, by Julia Munroe Martin

For as long as I can remember my inspiration for writing has come from my everyday life. As a child and teen I traveled with my family to remote places in the world where I felt isolated and alone. I wrote in a journal and letters to friends back home. These became lifelines, and when something happened, my first thought was: “how will I write it”?

I wrote about the things I saw—so when I lived in Kenya I wrote about taking a boat trip down the Nile River: the elephants, the hippos, and the crocodiles. When we lived in Nairobi I wrote about the folktales I heard and the bush babies that played at night in the trees outside our house. I was homeschooled when we traveled, and when I studied history, I’d write stories just for fun, just for me—about a nurse in the Civil War, another about a young girl who traveled across the country in a covered wagon. Perhaps not surprisingly, since I traveled so much, my stories were often inspired by travel through space or through time.

As I got older, when I went off to college, I studied science—certain I wanted to be a doctor. But time after time, I found myself returning to writing, when research made me curious, fascinated with how something worked or why something happened. Wondering again how I would write about it. My ornithology field notebook became a place to write long explorations of bird life and appearance. Roommates and boyfriend problems became short character studies. An internship in a law office made me think about how I’d write about a man accused of giving illegal acupuncture treatments.

While I studied biology I took courses in American Literature and Shakespeare. I imagined a world that revolved around words and thoughts. I also continued to dabble in creative writing: I wrote poetry and sarcastic blues-y song lyrics to amuse and entertain my friends. I was inspired by late nights and starry skies, by conversations with strangers about what made them tick.

I stopped studying pre-med and instead studied journalism, and I became a pro at asking questions and getting information. Interviews inspired me then—as they do now—I can’t leave any stone unturned, even if I’m just satisfying my own curiosity. And then I’d write, breaking complex information into easier to understand pieces. The question, when I faced complex terms was “how will I write this?” The question I love to answer, the answer I love to find.

My first “real job” was as a technical writer for Hewlett Packard. I wrote user manuals for computer networking products. My “how will I write it” became stretched to unnatural limits. Often the answer I came up with was “I don’t know.” Sometimes “I don’t care.”

The examples in my user guides started to look more like fiction; I made up names and office scenarios. More and more, I found myself writing fiction—even at work—inspired by the desire to escape my cube. So I wrote about a guy doomed to build boxes. Another story about a woman who discovers a conspiracy in a computer company. When I lived in Colorado, where we hiked a lot, I started a mystery about a woman who finds a cache of gold hidden in a cave during a hundred-year-ago botched railroad robbery. I also started to write about a woman who time traveled through an old burned out tree in the prairie.

“How will I write it” is my everyday companion. When we renovated our house and found random things within the old walls, I wrote a story about a woman who found an old letter in the walls of her house—that led to a man—that led to love. It was my first published short story. When my children were young, I wrote stories they could read: early readers then young readers then middle grade readers. My endless questions fueling my curiosity, my curiosity sparked more questions, and then of course the “how will I write it.”

New ideas bombard me daily. A month ago, on a drive to look at fall foliage, I thought of an idea for a brand new WIP. A brilliant fall day, a memory of a walk down a path with my daughter, a famous author—these things formed a spark. I don’t know why or how the idea coalesced in my mind—but my first thought after I had it was “how will I write it”?

Sometimes these ideas go nowhere at all, and sometimes they’re downright annoying—in the middle of working on one WIP for example, it can be frustrating to be distracted by a shiny new object. I’ve learned to put blinders on, to pay heed to inspiration, while at the same time regulating the floodgates and managing the flow. I plan, I plot, I write, I revise.

Just like when I was a child, time after time, I find inspiration in my everyday life—helping me make sense of everything from the mundane to the heartbreaking. And as I do, the question I come back to again and again is: “how will I write it”?

***

Thank you Julia, for my daily dose of curiosity and inspiration!

Julia Munroe Martin lives in an old house on the coast of Maine. But she was born in France and has also lived in Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Belize, Kenya, and Uganda (with brief stints in Minnesota, Ohio, and New York)–all places that inspire her fiction and creative non-fiction. Julia is a novelist-in-progress; she blogs at wordsxo.com about writing and the writing life; on Twitter she’s @wordsxo, named a “Top Twitter Feed to Watch” by The Writer magazine (July 2012).

Okay, your turn. What’s your latest adventure and “how will you write it”?

32 thoughts on “Be Inspired by Julia Munroe Martin

  1. And thank you, Lisa, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my inspiration and creativity — you really stretched me to think about it in ways I haven’t before, so that was a good exercise! And thank you even more for the lovely introduction — you are so very kind! xox Julia

    • Thank you for the guest post! I love hearing how your mind works when you write. And thanks as well for keeping the conversation going here — such lovely comments, too. 🙂

  2. Thank you Lisa and Julia for your combined inspiration! I appreciate your positive attitudes and the special interesting quirks you each possess that make me want to read more, learn more.

    • Thanks so much, Jen! I love being a guest on Lisa’s blog for the exact reason you mention — combining inspiration together, making me want to read more and learn more! Exactly. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Haha, those hippos… quite the adventure, Jolina. (I didn’t write about the barbecue on the banks of the Nile.. guess what was on the menu?) So happy you enjoyed this journey. Thanks for reading!

  3. Hi Julia and Lisa!

    As a friend and reader of Julia’s wonderful blog, I know firsthand how well she “will write it” — no matter what the subject! I love the idea that as writers we are constantly processing experience and shaping it somehow (whether we are aware of it or not!) in a story structure. We can’t help it!

    Right now, I am beginning my next novel and “how I will write it” is ALL I think about–the whos and the hows, the wheres–at this stage, it feels huge and unmanageable but then I remember it happens a page at a time. A version of a hundred mile journey begins with a single step.

    Thank you ladies for this perfect dose of inspiration!!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Erika! I’m glad you mentioned that it’s ALL you think about. I can very much relate to that obsession aspect of the “how to write it.” In fact, I am very obsessed with this new shiny and distracting WIP (calling me away from my edits)! It’s all I can think about. Thank you for your wonderful words!

  4. Thank you for such an interesting post, Julia and Lisa! It’s fascinating to read your take on that moment when a new idea sparks to life inside your head, and then you have to figure out how to make it into a story. It’s so exciting and terrifying all at the same time, isn’t it!

    • I’m glad you brought up that terrifying aspect, Emma. Yes, it really is pretty terrifying, especially when I wonder if I can do my spark justice. So glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. What a gorgeous post about a great writer and the sense she makes of the world through words. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing. And Julia, I can’t wait to hear more of your stories and how you’ll write life into the world. Happy writing!

  6. Wow. I LOVED getting to know more about you, Julia. This was pure awesome, yes it was. All of your story attempts at various phases in your life — so impressive! (Hmm… I’m beginning to wonder if you’re a historical fiction writer at heart, given your early story ideas – Civil War, covered wagons!;-)

    Because of your varied experiences, your mind is a treasure trove of ideas. I have to say – living in only three states during my lifetime – I’m a bit jealous of the exoticness of your experiences and the never-ending sources of inspiration. And I have to know: what’s a bush baby???

    I loved this line: “How will I write it” is my everyday companion… That’s how it should be for all writers, don’t you think?

    Thanks, Lisa, for a great guest post!

    • Melissa, your comments always make my day, thank you dear friend! And you know, I was thinking the exact same thing about historical fiction as I wrote this post. Very much a part of what I love–the ideas and the research too. What an insightful comment.

      As for the jealousy… I will tell you that my jealousy is of people like you who had the roots in one (or just a few) places. I yearned for that my entire childhood, and I still do. Yes, my travels provided inspiration but always a sense of longing for permanence, too…

      As for a bush baby? It’s a very small long-tailed primate with HUGE eyes. I’ll post a pic on Twitter 🙂

  7. What a wonderful post—I’m in awe of how open you are to the world, always taking in new ideas and seizing them. Reading this reminds me that when we have a spark for an idea, we shouldn’t waste time wondering whether or not it’ll work…we should simply start writing it and see where it goes. I’m not quite as prolific with my story ideas because I tend to overthink them, or, if I have one, it’s a very slow simmer, over a long period of time, that seems to live in me and not let go until I finally give it a chance to manifest. It’s inspiring to learn about your process and fearlessness–all the stories you wrote sound fascinating, Julia! Thanks to you and Lisa for sharing!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Natalia, you’re too kind. This really hit home in what you said: “we shouldn’t waste time wondering whether or not it’ll work…we should simply start writing it and see where it goes…”
      I do tend to do that, BUT I can see the benefit of being more of a “slow simmer” like you say you tend to be. Sometimes I feel too scattered, too distractable in my constant ideas. Like you, I’m always interested in how writers get their ideas! Thanks for finding me here at Lisa’s!

  8. Lisa – I am loving this series – being inspired by amazingly creative women. Thank you for the introduction to Julia’s work. I continue to be amazed by the way a writer’s mind works – how you both take the little and big stuff of your lives, ask “how will I write it” and then out comes something special. Awestruck at that process.

  9. So happy to see the two of you together here. I love both of your blogs! Lisa, I like how you describe Julia’s literary postcards. That’s perfect.

  10. What a great life you’ve had. You need to write a memoir. I’d love hearing about all those places. And how neat that you’ve always been a writer not only in spirit but in practice. Congrats on finishing that draft. Onward and upward for you girl.

    • You’re too kind, Jamie… not sure I’d ever write a memoir, BUT I’d sure love to tell you all about it over a cup of coffee someday; I’d love to hear your stories, too! Your kitchen or mine? 🙂 Onwards is right… new WIP commenced yesterday!! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  11. What a great chronicle of your writing life! It’s so clear that being a writer is just who you are. I always enjoy how you bring that perspective to the snippets of your life that you share on your blog and I can’t wait to read your fiction.

    • Thank you so much, Shary! What a lovely comment and compliment! You have no idea how long it’s really taken me to realize that all those pieces added up to meaning I was a writer — so thank you doubly. It is also nice to know that someone is looking forward to reading my fiction — I hope I don’t disappoint if/when!

  12. Oh, I love this! Lisa, I remember your post about doubt at Nina’s blog, but I don’t know that I ever made it all the way over here, so I’m glad Julia sent me here too! And Julia, this is a beautiful post. I feel like I know you better now; what an amazing life you’ve led!

    • Thanks for reading and for the lovely comment, Annie. It’s great to see you here. Julia has sparked an excellent conversation. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, thank you so much for your lovely “beautiful post” comment — that’s so kind of you, made my day! It’s very nice to feel the love from all the blog commenters and readers. Thank you 🙂

  13. Great post, Julia. You are an inspiration. Such energy and imagination. You have lived a fascinating life. I can’t wait to see what you do.

    BTW – is that a photo of you? I imagine it is. But I have to readjust how I think you look now. Great shot. It’s a little frustrating for me not to have a real life visual image of my blogging friends. Maybe we should all post videos of ourselves talking. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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