“I rarely think about rules when I am writing. In my personal life I have been breaking rules since I was young.”
KATE WALTER is the author of Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing (Heliotrope Books, June, 2015). She is a master teacher and award-winning writer who specializes in essays, memoir and creative nonfiction.
Meredith: Writing—or the dream of calling oneself an author or writer—seems, for many, to have this highly addictive, seductiveness about it. Like: I’d really be someone if I could write. Or be a writer, author, etc. But it’s not writing that imbues itself with these characteristics, it’s the person. Why, do you think, it’s such a seductive slope?
KATE: As someone who writes personal essays and memoir and opinion pieces, my identity as person and writer has always been intertwined. It is very validating to see an essay with my byline appear in print. Writing personal pieces (and now the memoir) helps me make sense of what has happened in my life in the past and the present. It is a cathartic experience.
Meredith: How do you keep the faith—or whatever you call it personally—when acceptance doesn’t seem to be coming?
KATE: Good question. I’m a Capricorn so maybe that is why I always kept climbing. Started my memoir over 10 years ago and wrote three drafts. The first draft was just getting ideas on paper. When I shopped around the second draft, the feedback from agents made me realize the structure was not working. I nailed the structure on the third draft but still could not get an agent. That was discouraging because I knew my book was well-written and powerful.
My weekly writing workshop (run by Susan Shapiro) was very supportive and their support helped me keep going. Finally, a member of the group (Royal Young) hyped me to me his publisher (Naomi Rosenblatt @ Heliotrope Books). I met her at his book party two years ago and she encouraged me to send her my manuscript and the rest is history. I owe a lot to my workshop and I’m grateful Naomi realized the potential of my story about breakup and renewal. It has a universal message.
Meredith: We all seem to have rules we are attached to—whether they actually work for us or not is another story. What is it about rules that make us feel like we are doing something correctly? Why, once we set up rules does it seem we need to break them to set ourselves free?
KATE: I rarely think about rules when I am writing. In my personal life I have been breaking rules since I was young. I was supposed to marry a nice Catholic boy but instead I came out as a lesbian and “married” a nice Jewish girl.
Meredith: Dennis Palumbo has a quote at the very end of Writing from the Inside Out, from Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” There is this collective sense that experts are better, but perhaps, in a roundabout way, what it suggests is that more power comes to the beginner, because the beginner sees hope and has no expectations. Like, if you’re going to be an expert, be an expert in being a beginner/newcomer. What’s your take?
KATE: Although this is my debut memoir, I have been writing and publishing for decades, so I don’t think of myself as a beginner but I am always a learner. I am always open to learning new things about myself and the craft of writing. Being a learner is an important trait for a teacher.
KATE: What had to go was the fear of what people will think of me—my family, my ex, my friends, my colleagues, etc. I had to push though this fear and find the courage to publish. I am still having crazy dreams related to the book, mostly about my family. I have a piece on my blog about these nightmares. But I wanted this book and knew I had earned it and refused to let fear stop me. I am terrified but I’m going ahead anyway because I believe in my memoir.
Visit Kate at http://www.katewalter.com/