Wherein my guest, a writer I admire, answers three questions about the art, the life, and the universe.
Do you create elaborate outlines for your books? If so, can you explain the process (briefly)? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants? If so, do you have any tricks you use to keep yourself from crashing?
I’ve always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer, whether it was prose or poetry. For me, not knowing what is going to happen on the page is what interests me most. When I write fictional stories, I love for characters to surprise me, tell me their secrets, behave in unexpected ways. Yet even in poetry, there is so much room for surprise. Pretty much every time I write, my mind wanders in directions I don’t expect. I always tell my students to go where their brain wants to go in the writing, even if it doesn’t seem logical, even if it seems strange. It is amazing what our brains can do on the page if we just get out of our mind’s way and follow instead of lead.
If you have a writing ritual, can you share that here?
I wake up every day, make a latte (which sounds very fancy, but I assure you no one would pay for my version), and sit at my computer and write something, anything. I do this before turning on my phone (with which I have a very strong love-hate relationship) or checking the vortex that is social media. I don’t require that I write something “good” or reach a certain word count or write for a particular length of time, but I show up on the page every morning, even if just for a few minutes.
I used to say that writers don’t need to write every day—and I still believe that—but since I started this ritual, I get to what I really want to write about (and how I want to write it) a lot quicker, except I don’t even know what it is I want to or need to write about until I have arrived.
What one piece of advice can you offer to a writer who has yet to tackle the publishing world?
Always aim as high as you can—reach for your dream publications (again and again) because if you never try, you will surely never get in. Don’t give up on a piece of yours that you love, no matter what an editor says about it or how many times that work gets rejected. Embrace rejection as part of the game—I aim for 100 rejections a year—and never take it personally. Okay, that was way more than one piece of advice, but I couldn’t help myself. The publishing world is filled with life lessons.
About the Author
Shuly Xóchitl Cawood writes across genres and is the author of several books, including the poetry collection, Trouble Can Be So Beautiful at the Beginning (Mercer University Press), winner of the Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry. Her flash essay collection, What the Fortune Teller Would Have Said, won the 2022 Iron Horse Literary Review Prose Chapbook Competition. Shuly has an MFA in creative writing from Queens University, and her work has been published in The New York Times, The Sun, and Brevity.
She teaches writing workshops online to both new and experienced writers, and she loves doodling with Crayola markers, hiking in the woods, and watching both great and trashy TV.
Learn more about Shuly, her workshops, and her work by visiting her website: shulycawood.com
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