#AuthorInterview: Bruce Ballenger

Next up in my year-long series of interviews with Idaho authors is Bruce Ballenger. It’s safe to say I would have never had the confidence to become an English teacher had I not been exposed to the teaching methods utilized by the writing program at Boise State University. Once upon a time, I also took a class on the history of the personal essay from Professor Ballenger. After years of hedging, I’m finally answering the call to get serious about writing nonfiction. 


Official Bio: Bruce Ballenger is the author of seven books, including three writing textbooks—The Curious Writer, The Curious Reader, and The Curious Researcher—as well as a book on creative nonfiction, Crafting Truth.  His essays have appeared in the journals The Writer’s Chronicle, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, College English, The Boston Globe, and a range of other publications.  Ballenger is a professor of English at Boise State University, where he has taught courses in creative nonfiction, the essay, and theories of teaching writing. He’s been on the faculty at BSU for 22 years.


1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your most-recently released book.

Pearson published the ninth edition of my writing textbook, The Curious Researcher, last month.  This success of this book always surprises me because in so many ways it’s an anti-textbook, written in a very personal voice and includes many autobiographical moments. In all, I’ve published seven books.


Bruce Ballenger Curious Researcher Cover


2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.

In general, I think there are two kinds of writing: direct and open.  As an academic, I do a lot of direct writing, which is work where I know pretty much what I want to say before I say it.  But the real joy comes from the open-ended work, where I write to find out what I think.  What motivates me to write more than anything else is to write to discover what I didn’t know I knew.  This is probably why I’m drawn to the personal essay.


3. As an Idaho resident, what do you most enjoy about living here? I love the outdoor culture, and for the most part I find my fellow Idahoans incredibly friendly and generous.


4. Describe some highlights of Idaho’s literary community. For a city of its size, Boise has an extraordinarily vibrant literary culture, with The Cabin as its focal point.  I served on The Cabin board for six years, and I was constantly amazed at the energy and enthusiasm for reading and writing in the community.


Bruce Ballenger Author Photo


5. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there? My blog is at curiouswriter.blogspot.com, where visitors will find occasional short pieces about writing or excerpts from longer personal essays. A recent post, for example, looks at the emotional work of revision.  Another features a recently published essay that appeared on the website Fully Grown People. I also maintain a website for my work bruceballenger.com, and that features many of my published essays.


6. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail? The key to my writing process is the necessity of calibrating my need to perform.  If I’m always focused on writing well—coherently, clearly, and with grace—then I won’t get any work done.  I’ll sit and stare at the blank screen and feel like an idiot.  To get around that, I need to feel free to write badly, especially as I’m generating new material.  I do that on old manual typewriters, where the writing is not only bad but looks ugly.  I craft work on the computer.


7. Are you traditionally published or self-published? I’ve never self-published. All of my books are with commercial publishers, including Pearson Education, which is the largest academic publisher in the world.  I also have an agent, which is key, I think, to not getting run over by these companies over the business details.  The upside is that the publishers handle marketing and the details of production, including covers.  I’d rather leave that stuff to the experts.


Discovering the Writer Within


8. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?

It’s interesting, but I’ve never gotten any advice about marketing and publicity.  My publishers have always handled that.   I wish I could say something smart, but I’m pretty sure whatever I’d say about marketing and publicity is obvious:  exploit social media, carefully craft lists of potential reviewers to send copies to, and sell books at speaking engagements (in my non-profit days, this was called opportunity recruiting).


9. What future projects can we look forward to?

I’m planning a new book with a colleague on revision.  No title yet.  I continue to write and publish creative nonfiction, and recently published a piece about collecting and writing called “Return to the Typewriter.”  I have an interest in writing about birds, and I’m working on a new essay called “Bad Birds.”  Another piece will appear soon on writing called “A Narrative Logic of the Personal Essay” in the Associated Writing Program’s magazine Writer’s Chronicle.


10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know? What passions drive your life?

It may be comforting to apprentice writers that one can be bad at writing for a long time before one gets good.  In college, my poem was singled out in my poetry class by a visiting poet as one of the worst poems he’d ever seen.  Ouch.  I majored in botany instead of English, so that helped. I find some of my early manuscripts nearly unreadable.  My father was a writer—and a pretty good one when he wasn’t drunk—and I never thought I’d write better than he did.  Now I do.  I used to say that I hate writing, but love having written—one of the dumbest things I’ve ever uttered.  Like anything difficult, you have to love the process, and if you don’t, find something else to do.



You can connect with Bruce Ballenger and his social media sites via his author website and blog.


Is there anything else you’d like to know about Bruce Ballenger?



Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2017.

Author: Jeri Walker

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  1. Ballinger’s approach to writing about writing sounds like it would make for some interesting reading. Too many works like this are so stiflingly professional that they are boring. Like the idea of injecting some personality.

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  2. Nice the meet Mr. Ballinger. I do believe I would enjoy reading some of his textbooks. They and he sound approachable. That’s a big plus to me.

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  3. I can relate to calibrating the need to perform. I love the idea of using an old typewriter to feel free to write badly.

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  4. Very interesting interview, Jeri. Nice to meet you Bruce. The best advice I’ve heard yet about writing “Like anything difficult, you have to love the process, and if you don’t, find something else to do.” Your bio is impressive and so many projects in the works! Inspirational. I’m surprised to hear you say the publisher does your marketing—I thought that was changing. Your text book looks amazing and I wish I had something like that when I was in University. Maybe it’s not too late 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience and tips here.

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  5. I sure agree that we have to allow ourselves to write badly. Then get to the work of making into good stuff (at least some of the time!). While I admire that you write on a typewriter, the idea of that makes me shudder. I so love my computer for writing. Different strokes!

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  6. Wonderful interview Jeri and Bruce. It was enlightening to learn about Bruce’s writing process – the old typewriter. As a nonfiction writer myself, I will say that my method of writing is somewhat considered pre-historic, as I write all my book’s first drafts in longhand, yes, you heard me. I do not feel creative in front of a computer. After first draft is written, it goes in the computer as I begin first round revisions. Thanks for sharing. I will check out Bruce’s work. 🙂

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  7. If I had some of his textbooks in university, I think I would have enjoyed textbook readings a whole lot more. It was really interesting learning more about Mr Ballenger here. Definitely will be checking out his website.

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  8. Another great interview Jeri. It is always encouraging to read about the journey of established authors. There was once a time when they were new writers with a born passion to write just as I am.

    I resonated with Ballenger’s point on not waiting until your ideas and content are perfect but to just write. I guess this is where drafting and editing come into play. First one must put pen to paper.

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  9. A very interesting interview. His personality really shines through. He makes a good point about allowing yourself to write badly. I think what he means is that once you liberate yourself from the constraints of perfection (unattainable) you will relax and your creative juices will flow.

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  10. Nice to meet Bruce and to learn more about the non-fiction writing route. I like what he says about self-discovery through writing and how the personal essay format lends itself to this process. Another great interview, Jeri! It must have been fun to work with your professor on your site here 🙂

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  11. The books sound fascinating, though I have to say I stumbled a bit over Mr. Ballenger’s comments about how he has no involvement in the marketing of his books. I belong to several author groups and from what many say even traditionally published authors are expected to participate in the marketing process these days. But then there are so many variables, genre, how much PR/marketing, etc. Very interesting, as always.

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  12. Like all the previously shared authors liked this profile too. Also, the book sounds fascinating when I can take time out will sure read it 🙂

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  13. I love that Mr. Ballenger mentioned the negative poetry review when he was younger. I wish I had understood when I was younger that someone saying you don’t “have it” doesn’t make it true. Of course, I get it now. But I think that it is a great story that he perceived despite negative comments and proved that person wrong.

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  14. I find it very encouraging to think you can be a bad writer for a long time before becoming a good one! Not quite sure where I am in that process. 🙂 Great interview!

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