Writers on Not Writing: Mimi Manyin and Melanie Brooks

March 31, 2024

Writers pour so much energy into their craft that sometimes we forget that creative pursuits other than writing can fill us up in other important ways. Here, we’ll look at how two writers—Mimi Manyin and Melanie Brooks—turn to music and cookies when they aren’t writing, and how those pursuits affect the return to the page.


I love music. I listen to all types of music, from Classical and Broadway to dance, pop, R&B, rock/metal, film scores, sea shanties, and more. I also improvise on the piano regularly. Improvisation is a creative outlet for me to unwind, reset, and recharge. I enjoy experimenting with sounds and moods, and I love the spontaneity and freedom. When I improvise, I let my subconscious mind take over and lead my fingers to where they should be. I become a listener, and my job is to pay attention to melodies that want to come out and play. Sometimes, I follow rules of music composition. Other times, I follow only my intuition. The key is to surrender to the moment and unlock whatever emotions or tunes that are trying to come through.

My improvisation process helps me learn to take risks and be unapologetic in my writing. It trains me to tune out all the “noises” and listen to what is important to me. A musical motif that refuses to go away when I improvise is like a repetitive theme or character that keeps popping up when I write. I need to pay attention to them and what they’re trying to tell me. Instead of struggling with ideas or chasing words that don’t fit, I’ve learned to take a step back and let the stories come to me like the melodies that manifest inside my head. The process is organic and cathartic. And whenever I become exhausted or disheartened by my writing, I simply return to the piano and improvise some more. It’s always fun when I focus on the process rather than the outcome.

I enjoy playing music for others as well. I’m a special event pianist, and I love improvising on random pianos at airports, hotels, hospitals, and cafés. I also host and play music for Silent Reading Parties and Silent Writing Parties. These events bring me a lot of joy and satisfaction, especially when my music gives rise to positive shifts in my audience, be it a little boost to their mood or to their writing. Music helps me connect with other readers and writers in meaningful and delightful ways.

Mimi Manyin


I’m definitely someone who reads when I’m not writing, but often it’s reading by listening to audiobooks—when I’m in the car, on a walk, cleaning my kitchen and bathroom—I always opt for words in my ears over music (not to dismiss the joy I get from listening to music, but there’s something about being read to that feels like a luxury, and also feels like an escape from the daily reading I do of student writing and materials for courses I teach). I still love holding a good book in my hands, feeling the weight of the words in its pages, interpreting tone and inflection by the language alone, but I also find myself tuning in to that language in different ways when I’m listening to a book. And when I read in my genre—memoir—I LOVE to hear the author read their own work. There’s something so beautiful in hearing the voice behind that story. Sometimes I read for craft and sometimes to immerse myself in someone else’s story other than my own, and inevitably, the two intersect. As every writer knows, reading is how we learn to write, so I’m always exercising that muscle when I can.

Speaking of exercise, I try to get outside and move my body daily. I used to be an avid runner, but a series of injuries over the past few years (and my stupidly aging body) have forced me to slow down and walk instead. My chocolate Lab, Dewey, keeps me company, and there’s rarely a day that goes by, no matter the weather, that we don’t put in our miles. Exercise gives me the chance to reset, clear my head, and recognize that there’s a whole lot of life going on away from my writing desk.

I watch a lot of TV, and I feel ZERO shame in admitting that. There are some really great writers working in television right now, and the shows that make me laugh or cry, the ones that keep me on the edge of my seat—they are all giving me artistic elements to use in my writing: character building, dialogue, storyline development, emotional resonance. I find that even without consciously thinking about it, I am attending to the details of craft in the stories I can’t get enough of, and that sparks my creativity.

I make these fancy decorated cookies that have become one of my favorite creative releases. When I make them, it’s a multi-step, full-day endeavor that I throw myself into. Once they are done, I give them away to friends, and they are received with gratitude 100% of the time. I wrote an essay last year called “On Cookies and Rejection” about the value of finding low-stakes creative endeavors such as this one to balance the high stakes world we writers often live in.

I do a lot of writing in my head before the words ever land on the page, so I’m not completely certain that I actually ever stop writing. Even when I’m not physically in front of my laptop or notebook, these other pursuits are filling my cup. I’m paying attention, gathering stories, and adding them to my mental storage unit until the time is right to craft and shape them into something meaningful.

Melanie Brooks

Mimi Manyin is a writer, musician, and editor. Her work has appeared in
Ploughshares, Meridian, Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. Mimi was a Sewanee Writers’ Conference Scholar and has also received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and Tin House Summer Workshop. She is at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. Connect with her @MimiManyin.

Melanie Brooks is the author of the memoir A Hard Silence: One daughter remaps family, grief, and faith when HIV/AIDS changes it all (Vine Leaves Press, 2023) and Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma (Beacon Press, 2017) She teaches creative nonfiction in the MFA program at Bay Path University and in the MFA program at Western Connecticut State University and professional writing at Northeastern University. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast writing program and a Certificate in Narrative Medicine from Columbia University. She has had numerous interviews and essays on topics ranging from loss and grief to parenting and aging published in the The Boston Globe, HuffPost,Yankee Magazine, Psychology Today, The Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, and other notable publications. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, two children (when they are home from university), and chocolate Lab.


Curated by Jen Dupree


At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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