Working writers discuss realities of the writing life

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Lauryn Smith Freimark/PSU Vanguard

Writing is a great escape from the normal grind of life, but that doesn’t mean the task can’t seem overwhelming. For aspiring writers interested in pursuing their dreams, conversations with working writers can make the effort seem manageable.

On Oct. 18 at University Pointe at College Station, three writers discussed their writing lives and talked about how writing became an everlasting passion for them in the event “Portland State of Mind: Writers at Work.” Eager students sat and listened while taking diligent notes on the writers’ advice, including how to manage a writing life parallel to day-to-day responsibilities.

The first speaker, Kait Heacock, is a book publicist for The Feminist Press in Brooklyn, New York. She recently released a new book titled Siblings and Other Disappointments.

“[Writing] doesn’t always feel like work to me. It feels like the most natural work I do, I guess,” Heacock said. “It’s the work that I’m not grumpy to get to in the morning.” However, even though she enjoys writing and sees it as a passion, there needs to be structure and organization in order to keep it serious.

Holding a day job helps Heacock sit down at the end of the day and write. “I feel like when I don’t have structure, I have all this free time, and I’m going to write so much! But then I don’t.” When she gets off her eight-hour day, she knows she can look forward to going home and writing.

The second speaker, David Biespiel, is a poet, literary critic and writer. He currently teaches in the creative writing program at Oregon State University. In 2013, a collection of his poetry released under the title The Book of Men and Women was selected by the Poetry Foundation as one of the best books of the year, earning Biespiel the acclaimed Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry.

When asked what writing means to him, Biespiel responded, “It begins as a compulsion—the older I get, the more I find myself returning to the feelings I had in my early 20s and just starting to write, which I have no idea what I want to say, but I have some questions I want to answer.”

He says most people wear a lot of hats, and they want to do everything: socialize, study, play sports—but it’s important to set boundaries, otherwise it’s difficult to accomplish what’s really important to you.

“You have to have some discipline in the manner that works for you,” Biespiel said. He suggests picking a goal you can achieve, and sticking with it. If you struggle to write 500 words a day, set the goal to 400 or 450. Consistency is key.

The final writer in the group, Michael Heald, is a publisher at Perfect Day Publishing and a contributing writer for Runner’s World magazine. To help support his love of writing, he holds a day job as a bartender at the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub.

“There are times I can write and times I can’t,” Heald said. For Heald, writing is constantly working things out in your head and trying to focus to get words on the paper. He admits to letting the internet take over and distract him from his writing.

To counter the temptation, he carries around an old laptop that can’t access the internet anymore so he can really focus on writing. “I’m grateful for my job in terms of giving me the motivation to get enough done so I don’t feel guilty wasting my life,” Heald said.

The night ended in applause; eager students personally greeted the writers with their own writing-life questions. Attendees were then invited to join students at many writers’ favorite location: the bar. There, they celebrated Heacock’s recent release of Siblings and Other Disappointments and further discussed the advantages and struggles of making it in writing.

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