Sunday, June 7, 2009

Interview with Kathryn Wilkens

LH: Kathryn, how did you get interested in writing?

KW: I didn’t get interested in writing until my late 20s when I felt the urge to start a personal journal. I didn’t want to write for anyone else, only for my future self. A few times when I came to the end of a book I would consider abandoning the enterprise, but I always wound up buying a new book and filling it up. No one had ever encouraged me to write, so I had to encourage myself. My writing was a form of rebellion against my traditional, Midwestern, male-dominated upbringing. My journals taught me how to write and helped me become the kind of adult I wanted to be.

LH: What was your first success?

KW: My first paid acceptance was an essay in Walking magazine, followed closely by a personal essay in the Los Angeles Times and a travel article, also in the Times. For me the stumbling block was in mustering the audacity to send out queries and manuscripts. Once I got over that, publication came easily (not that I didn’t have rejections and rewrites). Of course, by this time I was in my 50s!

LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?

KW: I write short nonfiction—700 to 900-word personal essays or 1,000 to 1,200-word articles. I write about anything that interests me at the moment. In addition to travel articles, I’ve written about the English language, writing techniques and photography. I wrote several articles for the now-defunct Personal Journaling on topics such as nature writing and how to title your journals. I’ve had three essays published in anthologies, with another one coming out in 2010.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?

KW: Only what everyone has heard a million times: Never give up. A story or article is only a failure if you quit sending it out. Of course, you may have to update, revise or re-purpose a piece of writing (by changing the angle or writing it for a different audience than you first envisioned). Also, I like to use the word “decline” rather than “reject” because it’s less emotionally loaded, as in “The editor declined my article, but I’m sending it out again.”

LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you have learned that would help you to succeed better/faster/with less struggle.

KW: I took an article-writing class at UC Riverside Extension with Mike Foley and he explained the marketing process (queries, cover letters, submission formats). I wish I had taken his class (or a similar one) at a younger age. I struggled with my own attitude for years and couldn’t accept that I was a real writer. Then I looked at all my journals and realized of course I’m a writer! Who but a writer would maintain a journal for so many years without a reason other than the desire to do it? Anyway, I think a certain amount of self-doubt is good if it motivates you to take writing classes, read writing magazines, learn how to research, revise and market.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

KW: Join or start a critique group. Set up ground rules that everyone agrees to. Read your story aloud, then be still and listen to what others say, without jumping in to justify what you wrote. Accept both praise and criticism with equanimity. You don’t have to take everyone’s suggestions, but you should pay attention to what is working and what isn’t. And right before you send a manuscript, it’s a good idea to have someone proofread it. They will find little mistakes that you may have read right over several times!

Here is the link to my travel article about Egypt:


Vickey Kall said...

I hadn't checked your site in a couple of months and now I'm just catching up on all that I missed. This is great! I love the interviews and the advice!
Never give up is the best advice ever. I just sent out what I believe is my 80th query letter on Death Speaker....and I really believe this could be the one that sells it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Vickie,
That novel is so good, it's hard to believe there are 80 people out there dumb enough to reject it, but humans are pretty strange so I guess it's possible. Best of luck in this round!
PS Yale just pushed me off the cliff after telling me I was in the queue for threee years. Yuck.

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Not only is Kathryn a terrific writers, but she is a wonderful person who shares her knowledge freely. Thanks you for this peek into Kathryn's writing experience.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carolyn,
Yes, Kathryn's interview was very candid and gave us all some great insights. Thanks for commenting; hope to see you some day, but you always seem to be on the road. Glad you saw the azaleas, though.

S Kay Murphy said...

Kathryn's article on Egypt was great--lots of information but presented in a style that was fluid and breasy; I felt like I was sitting at lunch with her, hearing about her trip. Kathryn's pieces on word origins are my favorites. Would like to see more of those in print!