I’m starting a new series here, folks. I’m going to call it, “Writers Write,” and each Saturday, I’ll share an interview with a writer who has recently published or will soon publish a book. Each writer will answer the same ten questions with the hope that their answers will show you the variety of approaches, practices, and perspectives in the writing world.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Sue Lick, a great writer who has been making a living freelancing for many years now. I first met Sue in our MFA program, and I’ve admired her work ethic and perspective ever since.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
My latest project has been finishing and publishing my new book, Childless by Marriage. Mostly memoir, it centers on the situation where one partner wants children and the other either can’t or doesn’t want to have them. In many cases, including mine, the problem arises in a second marriage where one spouse already has kids and doesn’t want any more. This book has been in the works for more than a decade. I published three other books in-between. But I reached the point where I couldn’t go on with anything else until I got it done. Now that it’s between covers, I’m writing poems and essays until I figure out what the next big project will be. I’m also keeping up three blogs, including one called Childless by Marriage.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
It’s odd that there aren’t many books at my parents’ house, but we were always reading. We just didn’t buy books. My mother loved to read and took my brother and me to the library with her every two weeks. We’d each come home with a stack of books and start reading in the car on the way home. When we were too young to read to ourselves, Mom made up stories and read to us every night. Nobody else in my immediate family wrote, although my step-grandmother fancied herself a poet and fed me lots of poetry books when I was young. I started writing poetry and short stories as soon I learned to turn squiggles into letters, and I’ve never really stopped.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
Here’s the schedule: 15 minutes dealing with mail and bills, 15 minutes of email, 15 minutes of filing, breakfast. Then it’s time to work: minimum one hour on fresh writing, another hour on rewriting. Then I work on the book project du jour for another hour. By then, I’m hungry, so I eat lunch, read for a while and go back to the office, where I check email again and deal with business and marketing chores. By 4:00, the dog is bugging me for a walk, so we walk in the woods or on the beach. If I come home with an idea, or if something strikes me at any time, I will sit down and start writing, schedule be damned.
4. Who are you reading now?
I’m about to interview Oregon author Leanne Grabel on the radio, so I just read her latest, a memoir called Brontosaurus, and now I’m reading her book of prose poetry titled Badgirls. Good stuff! I read a lot of different things, memoirs, writing craft books, poetry, fiction, research books related to what I write about, etc.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
I never can answer this question. I love whatever I just finished and liked. The list would have to include Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, Lauren Kessler’s Dancing with Rose and of course Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I love the way they wrap me up in a story and an experience that I could have had. A novel that really sticks with me is Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
It’s tough. That’s why I went to the hour-long segments for my schedule. I even chart them on a whiteboard, so I can see where I’m slacking. It might sound anal, but it’s too easy to get sucked up into non-writing tasks. I can lose a whole day tweaking my website or playing with my blogs, but if I do the writing first, then I know it’ll get done.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
I think I described it pretty much in Question 3. Of course, I can’t always stick to that schedule. I have to go to the dentist, buy groceries, get the car serviced, deal with family, etc., but I try very hard to not make any appointments or do anything but write in the mornings, especially on Mondays’ when I’m pumped. When I tell people why, they always seem puzzled. Writing?
8. Describe your dream writing space?
I’d like a huge wrap-around desk with very little on it to distract me and a library in another room where I could keep all my books and files. I recently visited someone who had this beautiful room with the big desk and windows looking out over an incredible view of the mountains near Yosemite. I could work there. When I was living with other people, I clipped out a picture from Sunset Magazine of this cute little cottage one could build in the backyard. That would be perfect, as long as it had electricity, windows and access to a bathroom.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I remember this group we had where the other women were determined to give tough critiques. One of them handed back my story with big x’s through most of the pages. She went through the story page by page, saying “no good.” I think I said, “Ouch” and faked stabbing myself in the heart, then mumbled something about how I’d look at it later. In a similar fashion, my last mentor in my MFA program at Antioch used to send manuscripts back so covered in ink that I could barely read them. I’d have to set them aside for a few days, but then dealt with one criticism at a time. Mostly these wise writers’ critiques were correct. The passages in question needed to be deleted or drastically revised. But it’s okay to say, “No, I’m not changing it because that’s exactly how I meant to say it” and stick your tongue out at them when they’re not looking.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Don’t talk about writing; just do it. You don’t have to take a class or wait for life to settle down. Just do it. Have fun with words. Don’t worry about writing perfectly at first. If a piece of writing comes out pretty good, take the time to study and shape it until it’s great. If it’s not so good, that’s okay. Let it go and move on.
Sue Fagalde Lick spent many years in the newspaper business before giving in to the need to write what doesn’t fit between the advertisements. Now she concentrates on creative nonfiction, poetry and music. Her sixth book, Childless by Marriage, came out last month. You can learn more about her work at her website, http://www.suelick.com.