Sarah A. Etlinger–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I work mostly in public spaces, my local coffee shop (which should be a national treasure!) and sometimes at home. But since I drive a lot for work, I often write in my head while I’m driving and use my voice recorder on my phone to record the ideas.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

As I stated above, I sometimes use the voice recorder function on my phone to record ideas while driving. But if I’m not driving, I get ideas and jot them in the memo pad of my phone. Sometimes I will use a notebook or my laptop.

For the actual writing, I do tend to write on my laptop—but if I’m revising, or need to work something out, I will use pen and paper (often one of the pair of purple Moleskine notebooks I bought when I decided to take this poetry thing seriously!).  Occasionally I will write in the notebooks to start from, but it’s rarer and rarer these days.

My favorite writing utensil is, and has been since I was 16, Pilot Precise V5 Rolling ball extra fine liquid -ink pens in various colors. Second choice is PaperMate Flair marker pens. If I MUST I will use UniBall liquid ink, and if I am REALLY REALLY desperate, traditional ballpoint pens. But that has to be a dire writing emergency! Before you all start thinking I’ve lost my marbles—I like the feel that these pens have on the page and in my hands; I like the ease of writing with them, and I love color. 😊

What is your routine for writing?

My writing routine varies by the week or by the day, since I have a full-time, demanding professor job, a 3-year old at home, a husband, dog, and a home to run. But when I do write it takes one of two forms: writing (where I often look at what I’ve written in my notes, or getting out the laptop and clicking away), or revising. I sometimes revise on my own; sometimes in response to feedback. I have a few readers and I work with a coach/mentor on a regular basis.

The revising routine varies, of course, depending on my time and on the extent of the revisions, or even how I’m feeling! I never write with my own music on; being in the coffee shop, though, there’s always ambient music playing and conversations, which for some reason I can tune out there but never at home!

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing almost as long as I can remember, though it has often come in fits and starts. But I’ve always been interested in, and “good at” language. I love turns of phrase, and I like sounds of letters and syllables; I love words. Love everything about them, and always have!

In 6th and 7th grade I wrote short stories and poetry almost constantly; in high school I did some. I even did a final project on fiction writing my senior year of college, and intended to minor in Creative Writing (along with a traditional English Lit major) in college. My alma mater, Skidmore College (which is the best school in the world and changed my life profoundly), phased out the major and minor, I think, when I got there, so though I took a couple classes, I couldn’t. I also decided, on the first day of 8th grade, I wanted a PhD in literature so I could teach English—which set my path more academically than creatively. (I’ve since earned the PhD in Rhetoric and Composition and absolutely love teaching first-year students how to write academic pieces).

The creative writing classes I took in college were lovely, but it ruined my ability to really write for a while, because –as is often the case with 20-year olds—I didn’t want to revise my work and I didn’t think poetry could be revised. So the feedback shut me off. It wasn’t until late college that I found my voice again.

However, since graduate school, I didn’t write at all. One poem on October 23, 2007, for a man I was dating’s birthday—and not a single (creative/poetic) word again until July of 2016, when my first poem in that time, now titled “Crossroads” (and can be found in the inaugural issue of Brine) came to me while driving through Elkhart, Indiana. The poem seemed to descend the heatwaves, and I chanted it in my head for the remaining 3.5 hours home. Then the floodgates opened and I couldn’t (can’t!) stop.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

My ideal/ intended audience is anyone who likes rich imagistic poetry or who appreciates a real voice in poetry. I’m not an experimental poet, and I don’t do things just to do them. Sometimes, of course, I get lines/phrases/ideas/images out of thin air; or someone says things to me and I like them (moral of the story, folks: I might put what you say in my work. Watch out! 😉). I write for me, as is expected, but I’m increasingly writing for women, I think, who want a different view on what women’s poetry can be. I’m not afraid, anymore, of saying what needs to be said.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

The world inspires me, though I have tended towards particular themes that have cropped up as I develop a body of work. I’m interested in male/female relationships and love; the interaction between nature and our emotions/experience; mythology, and, though I am an atheist, religious concerns from both my Jewish (secular, reform) background, and my mother’s Catholic roots. But, as I stated before, I sometimes just get phrases that clatter around in my head, or someone says something interesting. For instance, a dear friend of mine said, once, in a conversation about their favorite poets, “Neruda when I want to remember” and that struck me—so it wound up in my poem “The Timekeeper.” So, I never know what I’m going to discover; and I don’t write on assignment. I can’t—I need the muse.

If I’m blocked, I revise or put it away. I have to just let it percolate. Something always comes.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I cook, read, and teach, of course. I’m also about to have my fourth semester of piano lessons with a delightful and feisty, 81-year-old piano teacher. I spend time with my family, of course; going on excursions to fairs and zoos and museums and other kid-friendly adventures.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is getting inspired. Turning that inspiration into something, even if it’s not very good. Seeing the feeling or idea or image or thought turn into something else with live arms stretching into all kinds of nooks and crannies. And, of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it when someone says they liked my work!

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Can I just write a book about this? Advice, from 15 years of teaching writing to undergraduates, and from my own, hard-won lessons:
1. Do it whenever you can. Sit and write. Don’t stop.
2. Don’t judge it—just let it be. It can always be shaped and changed and altered. But don’t let that stop you. Just write it down. No one has to see it.
3. That said, get readers. Good readers, whom you trust and love and respect. You can control the feedback, too—ask for specific things—but find readers who love you, and can provide support. Sometimes, don’t guide the feedback. Just get their thoughts. And sometimes take it, and sometimes don’t. Just get it from people who have your back—it’s YOUR work, and your voice. You won’t hone a voice if you’re always crowding it out.
4. It will take a bit to find your voice. And your voice will change. But let it come out anyway, and don’t let things get in the way.
5. Be brave. Be unafraid to say what you need to say, how you need to say it. It might change, but be brave. Say it.
6. Don’t throw anything out. Ever. Keep it.  (No, seriously. Don’t throw it out.)
7. You will have fallow periods—this was the hardest thing I had to learn, and I still get freaked out when nothing is coming. Enjoy the fallow periods. Embrace them.
8. Don’t throw anything out. Ever.

Check out Sarah’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2. Her poem, “Two Fools,” was nominated for a Pushcart. A review of her collection, Never One For Promises, is available in Volume 5, Issue 1.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s