As a project for David Beard’s Theories of Writing Studies class at UMD, I had the pleasure of interviewing acclaimed author Michael Fedo. He opened up about his decades of writing experience, and offered advice to aspiring writers looking to make it in the industry.
You write in various different genres. What does your writing process generally look like?
When I was doing more journalistic pieces, I really almost read everything. I would go to magazine stacks in supermarkets and bookstores and I would just peruse all kinds of magazines and think in terms of writing for those specific publications. I would read a couple of newspapers a day.
Very frequently, ideas would just kind of come out of the air – something would just land as something interesting. When I got back into fiction and essays, a lot of my stuff was humor-based. What I tried to work with after doing some reading in humor-writing was looking at dialectic. I enjoyed fooling around with stuff like that – that kind of thing seemed to work for me.
How do you deal with publisher rejections?
I include in my book some examples where lots of important writers got rejected dozens of times, and some books won major prizes like the Pulitzer and National Book Award – and in fact the Booker prize winner a number of years ago – another Minnesota writer, Marlin James, said that his book got 78 rejections before it was published. Just hang in there and persevere anyway. If you think that you write well, you probably do. My philosophy is that every editor who has rejected something of mine was wrong, and somebody else is going to get it right.
Do you have any tips on making connections to help further one’s writing career?
Some career writers would say that I made a mistake, and they’re probably right – the mistake being that I didn’t specialize. I think that someone who is known as, let’s say, interested in writing about health and develops a reputation as someone who does a lot of writing in health and related issues, probably starts to get known in that area. Occasionally, this would happen to me as well – if I’d written about, say, subject X, after that piece that appeared somewhere, maybe it was in the New York Times, somebody else might want me to do an article like that. One who has somewhat of a specialization becomes known as someone who is very good at writing about that particular subject. I have always considered myself to be a generalist – I wrote only things, with very few exceptions, that were just really interesting to me, instead of trying to concentrate on one or two areas of specialization.
If there was one thing that you wanted a prospective writer to take away from your experience, what would it be?
Keep on. Stay with it. You know, you’re gonna face a great deal of rejection and I think that has been a keen discouragement to a lot of people who have considerable talent – they don’t get a positive response sending new material out, so they just give up. In my case, I just never did. That would be the key thing I would say – hang in there, be tough-minded, keep sending stuff out.
Michael Fedo is a Minnesota based author from Duluth, MN. He has a writing career spanning over half a century, having been published in prestigious publications such as The New York Times and Reader’s Digest, all while working full time at universities across the country. He also has multiple original publications of his own, notably One Bad Dude, The Lynchings in Duluth, and Don’t Quit Your Day Job: The Adventures of a Midlist Author. His memoir, published in 2018, highlights his experience as a self-proclaimed “midlist author” and offers advice and anecdotes to other aspiring writers.
The interviewer, Skylar Madsen is a prospective writer herself, with an interest in pursuing Grant Writing or Editorial work. She currently studies English and Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and will be graduating in the spring of 2022. Madsen has experience in various fields of writing, from analysis to poetry to professional, and will use these skills to pursue a career in the field post-graduation.