Melissa is the founder and author of the blog little word studio, where she posts original stories inspired by the work of artists and photographers from around the world. Since launching only a year ago, her site has grown with dedicated readership and thousands of fans across social media.
A native of New York, Melissa now lives in Newport Beach, California. She wrote her first story at the age of nine, (something about evil witches and shoelaces), and has been writing ever since, earning a B.A. from Columbia University and a master’s degree from Northwestern University. She also creates branded content.
Let’s talk inspiration!
You’ve created an inspiring place where you build collaborations with other creatives. In turn, do they get inspired by your stories to create new work?
I hope so. A huge part of the thrill in collaborating with artists is the idea that I can find my muse in their work and in turn, they can find similar inspiration in mine.
Up until now you’ve chosen to base your stories on figurative work. Do you think you’ll venture into abstract as well?
Absolutely. I haven’t done it yet but some of my favorite artists are abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. I get literary goosebumps thinking of all the strange, curious stories I might create if I stretched my writing to fit some wildly conceptual pieces of art!
Growing up, or even as an adult, what and who inspires you? Any role models?
I’m inspired by artists who have successfully turned their passion into incredible success. Of course there’s J.K. Rowling who, even after the explosive popularity of Harry Potter, continues to push the boundaries of her prose with her detective series starring the indomitable Cormoran Strike. Then, there’s someone like Anna Bond, a visual artist who built an entire company (Rifle Paper Co.) around her distinctively playful aesthetic and a dream.
You post once a week. When creating unique content, that takes determination. What motivates you, and is there someone who spurs you on?
When I first started little word studio, I was determined to post a new story once a day and quickly discovered that I couldn’t be that prolific and also produce quality narratives. Now I publish one story each week and a lot of my motivation comes from the spirited artists I work with. Often after we exchange a few emails about our collaboration, he or she is so fired up to read my story, I can’t help but write it within the next few days.
We all have ‘off’ days. What do you do when it hits?
From everything I’ve experienced, the best way to combat the ‘off’ days is just to sit down and write, no matter what kind of nonsense comes from your pen or how bad you think it is, and push through the ‘off-ness’ until you feel on again.
Do you prefer to find out as much as possible about the image and artist beforehand or would that influence your writing too much? What sparks your inspiration?
It varies. Sometimes if inspiration doesn’t strike right away or I can’t seem to find a storyline, I’ll go back to the artist and ask a little more about the work. Other times, I’ll ask nothing from them. I once wrote a story about this piece created by a Russian graphic designer who depicted herds of sheep being abducted by aliens. For that one, I needed no explanation and could simply let my mind wander.
Do you feel the online creative community has helped you grow as a person as well as a business?
I can’t emphasize how much my social media friends have encouraged me and changed me as a person while also allowing my blog to flourish. It’s incredible how you can foster such a strong sense of community and create such significant friendships with people who live in distant cities across the globe.
You like to use a regular pen and notebook for your first drafts. I really like that. Can you walk us through your process a little bit?
This goes back to my fascination with J.K. Rowling that I alluded to earlier. I read years ago that she drafts all her novels on paper and I’ve been doing the same ever since. There’s just something about feeling the pen scrape against the page that connects my mind to the words so much more than clicking my fingers on a cold keyboard. In terms of process, I like to draft my storyline first and I’ll do it very generally.
For instance, I’ll know that I want to write a story about a girl who falls in love with a boy at a car show and then comes to realize he’s a pick-pocketer who only wants to steal her watch. Once I have that basic plot-line, I’ll begin my first draft and fill in the details as I go along. How tall is she? What color is her hair? What do her eyebrows look like? What kind of car does she want to drive? What is her biggest fear? The answers to those questions come out as I shape her character through narrative.
I find that if you plan too much before you sit down to write, you get stuck trying to fit the details to the words that spill out. However, if you plan too little, you risk getting lost in vague looseness. Writing for me is a careful—and difficult—balance between strategy and spontaneity.
You used to be a singer/songwriter in New York City and often read aloud to your dog (reading that made me chuckle) to hear the rhythm of your words. I know some writers listen to music while they write (I can’t imagine!). Do you need music or absolute silence to write?
It depends on my mood. If I’m feeling totally inspired, I like to write against the backdrop of complete silence. Not even a dishwasher or a ticking clock or my dog’s squeaky toy (especially not that) can be heard or else I’ll get thrown off my game. Other days, I need music to get me going and it has to be something completely instrumental. When I write, classical music helps most because the rhythms are so intricate and thoughtful, your mind automatically reacts and comes alive.
I have to admit though, I live right on the beach in Southern California and I’ve become dangerously accustomed to writing to the sounds of seagulls and crashing waves. Nothing provides motivation quite like the mysterious vastness of the ocean.
Social media versus focussing on a singular task -writing- can be a challenge. How do you get in the ‘writing zone’?
The more I write, the more I realize that this idea of a ‘writing zone’ or even ‘writer’s block’ doesn’t exist. If you turn off your WiFi, shut off your phone and sit yourself in a room with a notebook and a pen, determined to write for the next 30 minutes or hour, then block or not, zone or no zone, that’s your time to get it done. I think it’s much more about discipline than it is about a certain state of mind. I’ve read that Haruki Murakami likens writing to a grueling physical activity that requires tremendous strength. To write every day is exhausting on the mind and body.
What would you say to creatives who feel hesitant or overwhelmed using social media to promote their work? And how important is the ’social’ in ’social media’?
Whatever you think of social media—ruining genuine connections or fostering them in ways unimaginable—it’s without question a tool to showcase your art to those who wouldn’t otherwise see it. That’s not to say you can’t gain notoriety without social media (you can) but having something like a vibrant Instagram audience definitely helps.
And it’s called ‘social’ media for a reason. Just as we’re out there trying to get our art seen by the millions of Instagrammers and tweeters of the world, other artists are doing the exact same thing. By engaging with them, you not only support this vivacious community of online creatives but you also might discover someone whose work inspires your own.
What can we expect from you in the future? Any plans, hopes, dreams…?
Fingers crossed, a novel. I’m entirely dedicated right now to bettering myself as a writer—reading voraciously, studying the work of famous authors and what makes their stories sing—and I’m putting all that I learn into the draft for my first book. My manuscript is in the infantile stages right now but when I think of the future, it’s made up of lots and lots of little words.
Visit the website: LittleWordStudio.com
All images: © Melissa Marni.
Melissa made some of these photos especially for this interview. How special is that. Thanks Melissa!