What’s Your Story About?: 5 Questions for Greg Garrett

Knowing what kinds of stories I’m drawn to helps me think about how to tell them best and helps me pay attention to what similar stories can teach me.” Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett is the author of almost 30 books, including five critically-acclaimed novels. The most recent (2023) is Bastille Day. Greg is the Carole McDaniel Hanks Professor of Literature and Culture at Baylor University, and has been teaching top-rated classes for the Writers League for over 20 years.

On Wednesday, October 18th, Greg Garrett is teaching a class for the WLT called “What’s Your Story About? Theme, Story, and Structure.” In this class, you’ll learn to reflect on your own stories and histories and become more conscious about the stories only you can tell.

Here’s what Greg had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Greg Garrett: I write fiction, nonfiction, and memoir—about 30 books now!—and have been writing since I was very young. My grandma had a file of stories I wrote and illustrated when I was about 4, all about fire fighters and astronauts. I learned my craft as a sports and entertainment journalist during college and grad school and published my first short stories in my 20s. Then I wrote short stories for a long time as I figured out how to write novels. My first published novel, Free Bird, came out in 2002, and my fifth, Bastille Day, appeared in April of this year.  

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

GG: Because I have a day job—I teach full time at Baylor University—I have to build my own writing around the classroom teaching, course prep and grading, and speaking and travel that are a part of that job. For many years I’ve relied on writing retreats as my primary book-writing practice rather than trying to write daily. That has meant that I do journaling and gathering and imagining for some time before I sit down and try to turn them into pages. Unlike a lot of writers who draft their way to a book, I tend to let things gestate a long time and then my drafts tend to be pretty close to finished. Knowing what works for you as a writer is an important piece of figuring out how to do your work.

 Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

GG: No, I don’t generally have that feeling of ultimate victory. What I do get is pride in the finished project. My latest novel is my best novel. My latest non-fiction book is my best. But the next one will have its own challenges, and what I do often tell people is that with every book, about halfway through I’m convinced that I don’t know what I’m doing. But still, somehow, it gets done. So my big epiphany might be the importance of perseverance. 

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

GG: Craft stuff aside, I talk a lot about the writing life. Writing is a challenge, and publishing is difficult, even for a much-published writer. As with any big dreams, I advise people to think about whether they love writing enough to persevere when the going is tough, if they really want to build a life around writing. Lots of people tell me they want to write. Not many go on then to do it. If you’re writing for social validation or to see your name in print or anything maybe other than the satisfaction of telling a great story or helping your readers understand the world better or creating something with your own hands, it’s going to be hard to stay warm and well when the cold winds blow. There’s a reason that Anne Lamott’s great Bird by Bird is subtitled “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” Writing practice and writing life are not separate, or shouldn’t be.  

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

GG: Monet painted lily pads. Lots of them. Something about them appealed to him. I’ve noticed some similar tendencies in my own work—tragic pasts, broken characters–and in recent interviews for Bastille Day got to explore the kinds of stories I tell more consciously. I discovered that this helped me as I finished my most recent novel. Knowing what kinds of stories I’m drawn to helps me think about how to tell them best and helps me pay attention to what similar stories can teach me. I hope people who take this class will be led to think seriously about the kinds of stories they want to tell, and will give them some additional tools to create memorable characters and meaningful conflicts.

Thanks, Greg!

Click here to learn more about Greg Garrett’s upcoming class.

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