That is incredible. I agree that realizing that you are the center of your own life is essential to creating the life that you want, especially as an artist. Speaking of roads, what was your road to getting published like?
Very long and very erratic! I’ve been writing my whole life, but I didn’t get serious about finishing a novel until I moved to New York, and once I put that focus and determination into it, things started to come together for me. It took a long time for me to be able to call myself a writer. I think the biggest obstacle on the way to being an artist is often just yourself.
I agree. “Make time for your art,” “Finish writing your book,” and, “Read as much as possible” are probably the three major things I tell any writer who asks me for advice. What do you tell people?
That’s really it! Read all the time, write all the time. Cultivate an iron will. Figure out the difference between people who are critiquing your work well and people who just don’t understand what you’re doing. Pay no attention to people who don’t understand what you’re doing. Trust yourself. You don’t have to apologize for putting your work first and you don’t have to listen to anyone who tells you there’s only one way to be a writer. You also don’t have to read Infinite Jest or move to New York unless you want to.
In addition to writing, you are the editor and publisher of Guillotine, chapbooks focused on revolutionary nonfiction? How did you get started doing that and what is the process of publishing a chapbook like?
I started out making zines in the late ’90s, and then got into letterpress printing and bookbinding because of that. I know so many brilliant writers; it was kind of a logical next step to start a small press. Publishing a chapbook is a labor-intensive process—I do a lot of chapbook-sewing while watching The Vampire Diaries.
Any advice for any of our readers who want to get into publishing?
Ha—I thought when I moved to New York that I’d go into publishing, which seemed like a logical job for someone who was trying to write a book. I got a meeting with an editor who was a friend of a friend, and he asked me what I wanted to do and I said “I want to be a writer,” and he said, “Why in God’s name are you trying to work in publishing, then? Go get a job in a bar or something and just write.” Which was the best advice anyone in publishing ever gave me, as it turned out.
Did you go get a job in bar or outside of publishing? I actually bartended for five years to support my writing habit, and I have an office day job now, plus I teach. The bartending and especially the teaching feed my creative process. Are you doing other things on top of the writing, publishing, and blogging?
I’m a terrible bartender! You actually have to be quite good at bartending to get a bartending job at most places. But I’ve done, and still do, a million different things—I’ve worked as a letterpress printer, barista, personal assistant, archivist…you name it. Right now, I have a part-time office day job and a part-time archiving job, and I do a lot of freelance writing on top of that.
You write, you publish, you blog, and do all of these part-time jobs too. I know a writer/editor/freelancer’s routine is very individualized. What’s your daily life like?
Every day is a little different; I don’t have a set routine. Doing a lot of things at once is often rewarding, but it can be a big challenge figuring out where everything goes.
Your blog is called The Rejectionist. What does that name mean to you? And I know rejection is something all writers have to deal with. There have been phases of my writing career even after being published where it has nearly broken me. How do you deal with it?
One of my first jobs in New York was working as an assistant to a literary agent, and most of my job was rejecting writers all day, so instead of the receptionist, I was the rejectionist. I had just moved to New York, I was incredibly broke, and it felt like I was literally crushing people’s dreams for a living while watching my own go up in smoke. Those were some tough, tough years. It helped me get through that time in my life to make it into a funny story narrated by this character who was basically just a more resilient and unflappable version of myself, which is how the blog got started. I haven’t had that job for years now, and my life is in a very different and much better place, and I’ve thought about changing the name—these days, it’s basically just a personal blog and reading journal—but I’m still fond of the person I invented out of that despair; I still try and summon her in moments of doubt.
I think every door closing in your face is just the universe telling you to go a little farther down the hall. But it can be hard to see that until you get closer to where you want to go.
I definitely agree on both points. To end on a happy note, as opposed to rejection, what has been the highlight of your career so far and what are you looking forward to?
I have gotten to do so many amazing things in the last few years, but honestly I think the best part of my career is the community of unbelievable women writers that I get to be a part of. I’m inspired, challenged, and delighted every day by the women around me and the work they make, and the fact that I am one tiny strand on this huge gorgeous messy jewel-bedazzled web of girl genius. ♦