I admire any writer who stays with the practice despite the challenges of publication, the lack of much income from the work when it is published, and the ever-present doubt of her own skill. So I admire Deborah Bacharach. I think you will, too. 

Living with Doubt: An Interview with Deborah Bacharach1.Tell us about your book.

Have you ever despaired, desired?  Have you been afraid that you didn’t love someone enough? Do you want to be happy? If so, these poems will speak to you.  The poems look at many facets of women’s lives–fertility, loving our children, not loving them.  The book is also full of art, Greek and Roman gods, sexy dancers, and children.
2. What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing poetry or essays, I’m a writing professor, tutor, and editor.  So that means on any day I might be teaching a writing class to nurses, helping a student from Saudi Arabia write her graduate application letter, or editing a dissertation on racism in education.  I find my professional work fascinating.  I also take care of my kids, go dancing a lot, and love to play games.

3. What made you believe you could write a book? How did you dispel doubt as you wrote?

I never doubted I could write a book of poetry though you’d think the fact that it took me twenty years to get published might have set me back some.  I started to joke that if I died before the book found a publisher, my friends had to get it published.   But it is true that every time I sit down to write, the great doubter inside pops up and starts telling me what a terrible writer I am and how I’m never going to create anything worth publishing.  And every time I sit down to write, I live in a state of hope that this poem will surprise me, this poem will break through.  I don’t dispel doubt; I live with it.

3. Describe the first 2-3 steps of your process in writing your book.

I wrote a poem.  Then another poem.  Then another poem.  Eventually, I had two hundred some poems.  (This took ten years.)  I went through the batch looking for themes, seeing connections and winnowed the batch down to fifty poems I thought fit together.

4. How do you balance what will sell with what you want to say?

There is no money in poetry.  It’s not going to sell big no matter what, so I say what I have to say.

5. Which is more difficult – drafting or revising? Why?

I find drafting harder than revising.  It’s scary for me to stare at the blank page.  What if nothing comes?  What if I only write garbage?  Once I have something to work with, I relax a bit.

6. What is your favorite part about being a writer?

My favorite part of being a writer is feeling as if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.  I just heard Gloria Steinem speak on this last night.  Some fifteen-year-old girls asked her advice, and she said (and I’m paraphrasing), Find that thing that makes you forget about time, that you would do even if no one was making you do it, that makes you feel you are being true to yourself.  She said, When I’m writing, I don’t feel as if I should be doing anything else.  Me too.

7. What is your least favorite part about being a writer?

I’m not a great proofreader. I don’t enjoy paying meticulous attention to detail.

8. What are a few of your favorite books of all time?

I have so many favorite books that it’s hard to narrow it down.  There are the books I read over and over as a child like The Little Princess or The Book of Three. There are the books that stunned me for their lyric beauty and hard truth like Invisible Man, The Sound and The Fury, and Bel Canto.  And there is the poetry that sustains me: Wild Gratitude, The Gift, and  The Dead and the Living among so many others.

9. What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

I love this quote from Brenda Ueland from her book If You Want to Write:

Living with Doubt: An Interview with Deborah BacharachThe only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny; whose attitude is: “Tell me more. Tell me all you can. I want to understand more about everything you feel and know and all the changes inside and out of you. Let more come out.” And if you have no such friend, and you want to write, well, then you must imagine one.

I have friends who do this for me, and it keeps me writing.

Deborah Bacharach is the author of After I Stop Lying (Cherry Grove Collections, 2015).  Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Arts & Letters, Menacing Hedge, and The Southampton Review among many others.  Find out more about her at DeborahBacharach.com