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“When I Can Help Free People Into Their Best Writing, I Also Free Myself”: an Interview with Susan Wooldridge

WordSpring ’16 Preview #6

From ecopoetics to poemcrazy. In this installment of our on-going series of interviews with presenters from this year’s WordSpring Creative Writing Conference, Mercy Yepez  interviews Susan Wooldridge.

-leHab

Susan Wooldridge, WordSpring ’16

“When I Can Help Free People Into Their Best Writing, I Also Free Myself”

-by Mercy Yepez

Susan Wooldridge is a poet and author of three books (poemcrazy, Foolsgold, and Bathing With Ants). She enjoys helping people channel their inner creativity and translating it into writing.  She has conducted many workshops to inspire writers of all ages. I recently had the opportunity to interview her and gain insight into a range of topics, from her writing process to tips for publishing a book. All of this just in time for her workshop, “Journal Wild!” at the 2016 WordSpring creative writing conference, Saturday, April 23rd.
Mercy Yepez (MW): What influences your writing besides language and other writers?
Susan Wooldridge (SW):  Since I carry a journal everywhere, almost everything I see or hear influences my writing!  I’m continually taking notes on the world.  I catch what people say, I tape in pictures and poems and fragments of stories I read.  My life funnels into my writing!
MW: What is the easiest part about writing? What is the hardest?
SW: Spinning out chapters is easy for me, filling my journals with what I catch in the world. What is hardest for me is winnowing my words into a form that has value and is worth a reader’s time.  My writing appears simple (not necessarily in a first draft interview like this!). My work is to spend the time it takes to make my words accessible while holding something the reader may need or want to discover.
MY: What subjects are off-limits as far as writing about goes?
SW: I avoid politics and don’t try to express many of my far out mystical ideas!  I want my work to be accessible to everyone.  I want to extend love, and do my best not to write anything that might be hurtful to anyone who reads it.
MY: Is there another book in the making? If so, what would you write it on?
SW: My current book (I’m always writing a book it seems, if slowly) is about land and language.  I love to make discoveries about process, and I want to help people find their way into their creative hearts and souls. Once again, I’m focusing on writing process, and how it all relates to a burned down ranch we are restoring that has fueled my writing.

 

MY: What were the biggest challenges you faced when writing poemcrazy and Foolsgold?
SW:  It’s challenging to me to stay on task.  I tend to wander off in every direction and include much more than I can use. I can easily lose sight of where I’m going.  The process takes me many years.  I write too many chapters and have to whittle things down into a readable shape.  It’s an extremely slow process for me, because I most love generating new material and at some point I have to stop and work with what I have.
MY: What is a surprising thing you learned while creating your books?
SW: That I’m a persistent person.  That fear of failure is universal and I have to get past my ego telling me I’m not good enough or smart enough. That it truly takes a team to bring a book into the world.

 

MY: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers on what to do, and what not to do, when publishing a book?
SW: Don’t try to publish your work too soon. Do you really have something to say that will be valuable to your readers?  Write and write and write without being too critical. Make sure you want to live the life that your book will bring your way.  Revise and revise and revise.  Allow your book to lead you and be willing to change course.  Get LOTS OF help from readers who are good editors who will help you focus your work.  PERSISTENCE is one of the most important qualities to develop.

 

MY: What is your favorite genre to read? Who is/are your favorite author(s) from this genre?
SW: I generally read more nonfiction than fiction these days, though Anthony Doerr (who writes fiction) is a favorite.  I love to read poems, and generally read several poems a day, at least.  Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Gary Snyder, Jane Hirshfield, Rumi, Hafiz, writers with an uplifting view of the world.

 

MY: Who have you read recently that has impressed you?
SW:   I have been most impressed by fiction writer Anthony Doerr, who wrote The Shell Collector, holding three of my favorite pieces of short fiction.  Doerr’s new novel All the Light We Cannot See won a Pulitzer Prize. I’ve met him and heard him read and love everything about his writing and his way of being in the world.  I love many poets and read poems all the time: Dorianne Laux, Billy Collins, Emily Dickinson, Brenda Hillman, too many to name. We will talk about some of these writers in my workshop.

 

MY: If not writing, what other career path would you have taken interest in?
SW:  I love helping people free their creativity.  I am happiest leading workshops to do this, and often that’s what I end up writing about.  I also love gardening, helping create cozy worlds for people to live in, making collages…. My passion is helping free people into their deepest most creative selves.

 

MY: What is your favorite part about connecting with your readers?
SW: I love sensing that the reader is already there with me as I write.  I love meeting my readers in workshops and helping them stretch and expand their writing. When I can help free people into their best writing, I also free myself.

 

MY: How will your workshop build on the ideas in your books?
SW: My journal is at the heart of my writing practice–the place where I catch ideas and begin many of my chapters and poems.  My books are based on my journal discoveries.  My workshop will spring from many of the ideas in my journals that have made their way into my two books.  Come and see!

Wooldridge’s “Journal Wild!” is one of seventeen workshops in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, song-writing, and more on tap Saturday, April 23rd as part of WordSpring 2016. Conference registration is still open, but filling up fast, so check out buttewordspring.org for more information.

LeHab still has more interviews coming (we may even do a few in person this weekend at the conference), so keep coming back to hear more writing wisdom.

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About The Haberdasher

Created by writers for writers, The Haberdasher, or le Hab, is your Peddler of Literary Art for Northern California and beyond. In addition to writing tips and literary debates, we also feature critical reviews and author interviews.

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