Susan Taylor Chehak–Interview

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

I work at home, and always have. Now my children are grown and I have more time for that, but I don’t always use that time as wisely as I might. I have a desk in an office with windows that look out onto mountain peaks and forest land, but my desk faces a blank wall and I try to keep my gaze inward rather than looking up. I’ve created writing spaces in closets and basements and all kinds of dark places, and that has always worked best for me.

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

I handwrite the first drafts of my stories, outlining them first, spending a good while developing my stories before I put pen (Unibal Deluxe Micro pen w/ black ink—I buy them by the box) to paper (plain brown cardboard-covered narrow-ruled 7.5×10″ Moleskine notebooks). I let that draft fester for a week or more before typing it up on my laptop. And then spend several weeks editing and polishing, with more festering time between workdays to keep it fresh every time I go back to the page. Sometimes I use a device called a FreeWrite typewriter to create a first draft (this is usually what I do with novels), which is like the original word-processers that we used back in the day, where you didn’t have a full screen, just a keyboard and about two horizontal inches of screen that showed the last few words typed. This thing sends the draft up to a folder in my Dropbox as I type, so I can’t do any editing or double-thinking, just have to spill it out, as I do with handwritten pages. To me, the ability to make a mess is important to really get down to the intuitive, gut-felt writing, before I go back in and clean it all up later. This is how the voice of the narrative begins to emerge for me, too.

What is your routine for writing?

I am an early riser and compose handwritten drafts when I first get up before dawn, only a few pages every morning. Then later in the day, usually mornings, I’ll be drafting on the FreeWrite or working on previously drafted work, editing and polishing, cleaning up the messes I’ve made… or simply dreaming up new stories, outlining and working out sequences and scenes. Afternoons are spent reading and gathering information for whatever it is I’ve been working on. Somewhere in there I’ll go out into the forest and mull over all that I’ve been dreaming up. I call that taking “long walks in deep woods with big dogs.”

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

My grandfather “published” my first story 60 years ago, when I was 9 years old—by making mimeograph copies and distributing them to my family—and I’ve been writing one thing or another, pretty consistently, ever since.

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

I don’t think of an audience when I am writing. I write for the piece itself. I spend a lot of time examining the messes I make to see what they’re asking of me, what they’re telling me, what I need to do to turn them into something that has some meaning or some beauty or some something that will make them seem whole and in some way complete.

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

I’m inspired by the people I talk to, the stories they tell me, the situations I see, the feelings that overwhelm me. When something disturbs me or someone I know, when I see pain or grief or confusion, my impulse is to use it somehow, to do what I can to turn it into art. I feel I might be able to find some redemption that way. When I’m blocked (which is rarely anymore) I go out into the world, either into the forest or onto the street or into the city…it doesn’t really matter where. A change of scenery makes everything look new and marvelous to me again. If I can’t get out, I go inward: meditation, reading, watching TV and movies, looking at art. I also like to strike up conversations with strangers, to get myself out of myself when I’m feeling stuck.

What other things do you do besides writing?

I always have a lot of projects in the works to keep me busy. I knit sweaters and socks and blankets and mittens and washcloths and hats. I design and sew skirts and pants and shorts for myself. I play with embroidery, weaving, cross stitch, almost any kind of textile work that I can do with my hands. I have a small art studio where I draw and paint and build sculptures and collage, and I’m learning to play guitar and piano. I hike in summer and snowshoe in winter and practice Transcendental Meditation and Kundalini yoga year round.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The moments when whatever I’m working on speaks to me and I understand what I need to do to make it work, to turn it into what it will become. This almost always comes as a beautiful surprise to me, as if it were someone else who created the thing in the first place. Also, when I’ve just finished something and I can look at it and say, “That’s done,” and then move on to something new. I am always learning. I am always failing and starting over, making mistakes and fixing them, running into walls and picking myself back up again, finding another way around or another way in or another way out. For me, the creative process is a never-ending adventure. Where I get stuck, really, is afterward, when I have to figure out how to get whatever I’ve created out into the world. I’m not very good at that at all, and so I generally leave it to others to do it for me. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Write all the time. Read everything. Go deep into your own self and your own imagination and dreams and listen to what your unconscious is telling you. Open up your eyes, your heart, your mind, your windows and your doors, and let the world come on in, too. Then turn your experiences into art.

Check out Susan‘s work in Volume 6, Issue 1.

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