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50-for-50 interview: Amy Jane Gruber, 140-character truthteller

Forgive me, Lord, for I did not know of the greatness that is Amy Jane Gruber until serendipity found me seated next to her at a panel three or four SXSWs ago. As I recall it, she was twice as funny as any of the men on stage that day, with half the hoopla and none of the b.s. Since then, I have made it a point to nab one-on-one time with Amy at every event I’m lucky enough to find her at, then delightedly settle in for a few sweet, sweet hours of conversation that’s so rollicking, wide-ranging, and smart, you’d call “bullshit” if you saw it in a movie. In between these all-too-rare meetups, I make do with her Twitter stream, which is (of course) populated with the most consistently high-quality material I have found there from anyone—man, woman, amateur, pro, or totally fake account. Ain’t no faking about Amy Jane Gruber: she’s 100% real.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I never really decided to become a writer but there was a time in college when I realized that I was better at writing than other people. I happened to go to high school with a lot of good writers, my husband included, and I didn’t know that it was something that not everyone could do well. I tested into an advanced writing course in college, and most of the students there were still struggling with grammar.

Law school involved a lot of writing and even though I did well on all my briefs and assignments, I struggled with every one. I had some writing rituals; I’d sit in front of a space heater with a hat on and I’d spread out all of my cases on the floor along with sections of my brief that I’d hand-written. Long story short, I’d end up writhing around on the floor with about a thousand pieces of paper wondering why I ever did this to myself. And every time I’d tell myself, “This is it. Being a lawyer is writing so get over it.” But it never got any easier for me. I’m a bit of a reluctant writer.

Who was your favorite teacher?

My high school English teacher, Elora Strickler. She was the reason I was so far ahead of my peers in college and law school. Mrs. Strickler taught me so many writing basics that I still use today, especially if I’m stuck. Example: always come full circle in a paragraph or a story. Your last sentence should be a tie-in to your first. I cannot tell you how many essays I have bullshitted my way through in college and law school with this trick. Profs, lawyers, and judges eat it up. It is often under-utilized by writers and over-utilized by stand-up comedians.

What do you love to write about?

I actually love writing legal documents. There’s a definite format and there are citations and rules. You know exactly what you have to do.

But I don’t do that anymore and I find inspiration to write very hard to come by. Sitting down to a blank page is incredibly daunting to me. I have put off answering these questions as long as possible. I don’t reply to emails for an uncomfortably long time. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming that you’ve asked me to sign your yearbook.

I have been making an effort to write about things that move me in some way and I’ll often put up a photo on Flickr and write a little blurb about it. Mostly because I’m terrified of the commitment of starting a blog. It’s not a lot but it’s a start and while I do dread the writing process, I love the feeling of putting something out there that I’m satisfied with.

What has writing taught you?

Writing has taught me that writing is fucking HARD.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

I would tell myself to let go a little bit. My 10-year-old self was a bit of a people pleaser. But, you can go TOO far because my 38-year-old self is kind of an asshole.

I think everyone would like to tell their younger self not to give a fuck what other people think and to take more chances in life but you’re either born with that attitude or you have to earn it with age.

I see a lot of me in my son. He’s cautious and kind of shy and I’m always pushing him to expand his boundaries but it doesn’t work. He’s going to have to find his own way.

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

My absolute favorite book is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’m also a huge John Updike fan. After that, it would be too hard to say. I recently read The Help and I loved it, even though I didn’t expect I to. Right now, I’m making a real commitment to non-fiction and I’m reading a Woody Guthrie biography.

Truthfully, I’ll read anything and everything. I once read the first book in a detective series and I hated it but there were sixteen in the series so I felt obligated to finish them, all the while bitching about how awful they were.

I’m a lady so I don’t take a book into the bathroom, but I’ll admit that I have read the instructions for inserting a tampon at least 5,000 times.

Amy Jane Gruber lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son. She is @amyjane on Twitter where she is followed by over 45,000 people who can testify to her regular bursts of brief but awesome prose.

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