Being a writer is a vocation and passion that comes with a lot of intrinsic joys and fulfillment. There are also a host of difficulties and fears that accompany every writer’s journey. I know this well, and if you’ve been a writer for any length of time, you might, too. Having a support system of other writers, readers, mentors, and family behind you is invaluable if you want to thrive as a writer. We need to be reminded of this sometimes, though, just as we need encouragement and accountability.
A book that was released this past Sunday holds this very principle at its core. Organized by Annie Louise Twitchell, this beautiful project is the result of many authors coming together to create a book on the theme of love letters to writers. Capturing emotions ranging from sincere and quiet, to exuberant, to eloquent, these poems and letters are a source of encouragement and inspiration to writers of any experience and ability.
About the Book
A collection of love letters to creative souls.
For your inspiration and encouragement.
“There is a strange beauty in this lonely work; to create is to realize my connection with things greater than myself, and soon enough the work is not lonely at all, but blessed and beloved.”
Featuring the words of sixteen writers, For the Love of a Word is designed to encourage, inspire, and uplift you in your journey.
Featuring the words and hearts of:
Abigail M. Swanson
Selina J. Eckert
I had the honor of submitting a piece to this collection. But like any writing endeavor, I could not have made even this small contribution without the help of other writers. The lovely C. S. Taylor from The Folded World told me about this opportunity and said I should consider writing something. She shared a bit of the piece she was contributing, called “Remains,” and even though the concept of love letters to writers held an enigmatic ring to it and I wasn’t confident I’d be able to emulate it, I was deeply interested in the idea. When I sent Cherise my frankly lackluster rough draft, she dug into the prose and concept behind my piece and helped turn it into something that was so much more than I had originally thought it could be.
This girl lives and breathes the spirit behind this book, For the Love of a Word, and not only that, she is an exceptional writer. That is why I am so delighted to have the opportunity to interview her today as part of the For the Love of a Word blog tour.
Interview with C. S. Taylor
How are you doing today, Cherise?
I’m doing well. Currently, I find myself creating a list of new fantasy creatures for an upcoming endeavor. It’s not quite as simple as I thought it would be, but I’m having a blast anyway. How are you this morning?
I’m wonderful, thank you. That sounds fascinating! Is this a typical day in the writing process for you?
Not generally speaking. I tend to multitask, so I usually have several projects ruminating at once. For example, currently, I have a political thriller fantasy, a historical fiction AU, and a middle-grade fantasy series all under construction. (The latter being what the fantasy creatures are for.)
Usually these projects are all in different stages. So my political fantasy, Destruction of Kings, is somewhere between plotting and drafting stages. My historical AU, Venor, is in the outlining and worldbuilding stages, and my currently nameless middle grade fiction is still in beginning stages of world and character creation.
That said, I’m “technically” on an enforced sabbatical (from certain writer friends) until my inspiration returns and my perfectionism ceases. As per a normal writing day, for me, there’s not really any such thing. Every day looks different depending on my time and energy and what projects I’m dealing with.
It sounds like your writing process is full of adventures and surprises! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing? How did you become a writer, especially one that experiments with so many different genres?
Haha. Yes. I do get around. And trust me, this selection is shallow representation of how crazy things can get. (Somewhere in my closet I have an outline for a Les Miserables futuristic cyberpunk AU taking place during Hanukkah. It’s a weird time.)
I’ll tell the story as my grandma always did:
I was never not writing. Even when I could not write, I was telling stories and demanding people write them for me.
I’m 99% certain that this is why I was taught to read and write in the first place. (Fun fact: I’m left handed and dyslexic. When I learned to write, I wrote completely mirror backward.)
I completed my first novel at ten, and pursued writing from then on.
After some amount of argument, I was able to attend college for a degree in Writing and Editing and received concentrations in creative writing, professional writing, and technical editing. I then went on to get my terminal masters of fine arts in Writing with concentrations in children’s literature and fiction writing.
I graduated with both of my degrees at the age of 23, being the first person in my family to ever attend and complete an advanced degree program.
One of my favorite (and most horrifying) moments was when at my MFA graduation my father was speaking to one of my fellow graduates and said: “Yes, my daughter is great. She writes lots of science fiction.”
I have never written science fiction in my life.
Primarily, my interests lie in the field of fantasy and it’s many different flavors. However, I write whatever comes to me, and I pride myself on saying that I will try anything at least once.
Do you think you ever will write science fiction?
Perhaps someday. They say that steampunk, dieselpunk, and cyberpunk are offshoots of the original genre. I have interests in those, so there’s always a chance.
I didn’t know you were left-handed or dyslexic! You’ve worked really hard to get to where you are today as a writer today. Fiction writing and its many facets are clearly very important to you. What does being a writer mean to you?
I think the meaning of writing in my life has changed many times over the years.
As I hadn’t mentioned prior, I also have a degree in research psychology. And during my MFA I studied the psychology behind writing.
It falls into three categories. Exploration, what we write. Inspiration, how we write. And sublimation, why we write.
Each of these categories define what it looks like for us to write.
But in short, for me, as a writer, I use it to answer questions I have about myself, about people, and about the world around me.
Writing is exploration because it teaches us to understand not only the world and people around us, but also ourselves at a deep and profound level.
That level is where sublimation comes in. Sublimation is the psychological concept that we take hurt, pain, and trauma and create something socially acceptable with it to remove the feelings from ourselves and begin the healing and grieving process.
So artists draw, musicians play, dancers dance, athletes compete, writers write.
To me, the act of reading is seeing into someone else’s soul. And the act of writing is letting someone else see into mine.
Good writing requires vulnerability and honesty, or as you described, letting someone see into your soul. How did that come into play in your experience writing your contribution for For the Love of a Word?
I touched briefly on this in one of my Instagram posts concerning For the Love of a Word.
Honestly, writing this was both one of the most beautiful and frustrating things I’ve been asked to do.
Annie came to me and told me about her project, what she wanted to do. And I told her it was an excellent idea. I agreed to edit it for her, but it never crossed my mind to write something until she requested.
It took me months of brainstorming to find ideas, only to cast them aside.
I told myself that my piece needed to be two things.
One: It needed to be something no one else would write. I didn’t want to write the same thing in a different way. I wanted something fresh and meaningful.
Two: I couldn’t do it strictly in letter form. It needed to FEEL like me. And that meant some aspect of fantasy, vivid imagery, and lyrical style prose. [Which is my favorite style to read as well.]
It was coming down to the deadline though, and I had nothing. Absolutely nothing.
And there was a part of me that was heartbroken over that. I had to ask myself over and over, is this it? Do I have anything meaningful inside of me to offer the world?
People would tell me I did. Would thank me for helping them with their pieces for For the Love of a Word or different other projects they were working on. But I couldn’t accept that for myself.
I found myself convinced that I simply had nothing left in me to give. That I was drying up.
Then, one day, one of my little adopted writer children came to me. And she said, “Hey do you remember that story I wrote that you helped me edit?” I agreed that I did, and she told me that she’d been officially accepted for publication in an anthology.
I cannot begin to express how proud and elated I felt. To see how much my girl had grown. From needing handheld through basic writing techniques, to being a published author.
I was so proud I couldn’t even manage to express it. There are so many millions of words in the English language, and I couldn’t even put together one sentence.
And then, she told me thank you. For the help, the teaching, the support. All the things that I imagined that were a given, that were probably heard and forgotten in the long run.
And it was like a dam broke. I knew that this was what I was going to write about for my submission to For the Love of a Word.
The piece was finished that day.
If you read through it though, there are many images that pay homage to this person.
But the entire point of the piece, “Remains”, is to explore the feelings and the power of the relationship between writers, between mentors and mentees, between family.
And, not to brag at all, but I think that that was accomplished.
What did writing “Remains” teach you (about yourself, writing, anything)?
Writing “Remains”…it taught me a lot of things. Some of them that I’m not even certain how to verbalize. But I can tell you this.
Writing “Remains” taught me to feel again. It taught me that fear is okay. It taught me that anguish is allowed. And it taught me that hope and redemption are real.
I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t ever have to publish anything. I don’t have to be the world’s idea of a successful writer. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not leaving a legacy.
I’m leaving a legacy of my own. It’s not what I thought it would be. But it’s my best, and it’s enough.
What do you hope readers take away from “Remains”?
You never know how deeply one word that you say may affect someone else’s future, someone else’s life and career decisions.
Only this year, after twenty years of writing, I was ready to give up. I was ready to never write again, never pen another word. I was ready to give it all up because I was certain I had nothing worth giving to the world, nothing worth saying.
One girl told me “thank you,” and with that she gave me a second chance. She gave me hope.
When people walk away from reading “Remains,” I want them to understand something vital. Their life, their writing, their sacrifices, the smallest words of encouragement and pieces of advice—all those things are meaningful.
All those things are meaningful. So never give up.
Do you have a favorite passage or line from the piece you wrote?
Honestly, the last two paragraphs are probably some of my favorite parts, but also the first few paragraphs are, too.
The thing with “Remains” is that I don’t think you can read it or think of it in parts. It doesn’t make sense to read it in chunks. It loses its impact.
I remember when I found you. You were all bleeding fingers and fairytales, carrying the constellations inC. S. Taylor, “Remains”
your eyes. You bent over the page and excess words whispered weaves of smoke, tendrilling into the air
around you. You fed my fragmenting soul on tales of mermaids, chipmunks, and girls who make friends
I watched you grow as I faded. My limbs crackled in the firelight, my spine breaking with the failing logs,
and I taught you all the things I knew, all the things you couldn’t understand.
I taught you—the words are not what make the story.
You’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes helping this book come together, from editing, to the launch party, and more. What was your favorite part helping out?
I don’t think I really had a favorite part. I loved every bit of it. One of my favorite parts of writing at all is having the chance to be involved in their projects at every level. I love sinking my fingers into other people’s stories. I love being able to stand behind them and encourage them and push them and love on them throughout the process. It fulfills a need in me to be able to stand behind these young people and meet the needs that they have. I wouldn’t trade this experience, or the experience of working with any of my other fellow authors, mentees, or students, for the world. I would rather spend my life doing things like this, than ever be known as an actual writer. This, being a part of, helping, even behind the scenes, is what brings me the greatest joy.
You wear a lot of hats as a writer. Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be? How is it different that you imagined?
I think that all of us have this perception of what being a writer will be like. We imagine that someday we’ll get discovered, that we’ll get book deals and travel to amazing places and have signings galore and meet fans. That someday we’ll have movies and soundtracks and we’ll write incredible stories.
And you know what—I believe that we will write incredible stories.
But I also believe that it’s a lot more work to form a career in writing than we actually believe it is.
Yes, writing needs to be about fun, about doing something we love. But writing professionally is also hard work. It’s dedication. It means throwing everything else aside to pursue that one thing that you want. It means pushing hard. It means forsaking fun in favor of deadlines. It means editing and writing and rewriting until you want to light your story on fire and shred your own brain.
And more than that—I think that people need to realize, it’s a lot harder to make it in the world today as a writer. There is SO MUCH available to read. And it takes SO MUCH work to get yourself out there, to get noticed, to even put out the amount of content necessary to keep your name noticed.
Writing professionally, the way most of us dream of writing, isn’t what it used to look like.
It used to be you could quit your job and sell your soul to writing and everything would turn out eventually. Nowadays, that’s a far off fairytale dream for the average person.
So in that way, I think it’s different than I imagined growing up.
But there was also a plus side that I never imagined. I grew up imagining the artist, the writer as a lonely person sitting in a room creating and destroying life all on their own.
I discovered as I grew older, that being a writer is something I genuinely enjoy—not just for the act of writing itself, but for the other people I meet while doing it.
I have made so many wonderful friends as a writer and a mentor and a teacher of writing. And I have been able to make so many connections to the professional writing world because of the fact that I have a wonderful community of writers surrounding me.
The life of a writer is not solitary. We may spend much of our lives shut up in small rooms, but in reality, we are never alone.
What is your favorite part of the writing process? What is the most difficult part for you?
The writing process is a finicky creature. My favorite parts of the process change every time I work on a project. Every piece is so unique in its world, in its characters, in the birth of its narrative that I find myself enjoying something different every time that I have a new story lying newborn in my hands.
If I had to choose something, I think that the brainstorming stage will always be a favorite. I love filling notebooks with images and creatures and places and scenes and random pieces of dialogue.
Now, the outlining stage—I don’t enjoy that quite as much. To be honest, that is probably the longest stage of every book that I write. It takes me literal ages to outline a book to where I feel comfortable writing it, but once I get it ready, a rough draft of a novel can take anywhere from a few weeks to three months tops.
That said, the revision stages take ages. I am extremely perfectionistic, and I don’t
always trust myself as a writer to fix it on my own. (Which is why I’m so glad to have other trustworthy writers around me—either to read and tell me I’m being stupid and I should change something, or to read and tell me I’m being a moron and the story is just fine.)
I vacillate horribly in editing stages on how I feel about the piece, and I’m almost never happy with it—to the point that I rarely ever send things out for publication. (To the chagrin of every single teacher and writing partner that I’ve had.)
And just for fun: Do you have a favorite place to write, read a book, etc.? What is it like?
I’m not a picky person, really. I can read and write anywhere. I commonly read anywhere from my bed to my desk to my couch to a chair on my porch. Occasionally, I read in my car or hunched over a desk at work.
Writing spots are also a gamble. Sometimes I do my best work just slouched on my bed with a timer. Sometimes I do better work sitting in a sunshiny windowsill. Other times I write while at work, while my kids are watching television. Wherever I can find a spare moment or a good place, that’s where the proverbial magic happens.
When I wrote my senior thesis novel for my undergrad program, I wrote the entire thing sitting cross-legged on my kitchen counter. (I cannot tell you how often I banged my head on the corner of my microwave. I still have a migraine to this day, even three years later.)
I’m honestly not picky about where I read or write, but often, my spine doth protest.
What can we look forward to from you in the future? Any big plans or writing projects?
Well, as some of you know, I blog regularly. You can find more about my writing and reading habits by following that, as well as regular columns of writing advice and blog tours on different subjects with people who have professionally studied in that topic.
As far as novels go, I have the three that I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I’m hoping to begin drafting—at latest—by the end of 2019. Destruction of Kings has been in progress (in various pieces of drafts) for well over six years, and it’s time that my heart child finally found its way onto paper. Venor has several beautiful main characters that I think the world will love, and I have a series of posts about it on my blog that you can access if you’d like to as well. As for the new nameless middle grade series…well, who can say. It’s turning out to be a bigger endeavor than even I imagined.
Where else can we find you?
Huge thank you to Cherise for sharing a bit about her story and her journey as a writer. You can read “Remains” in full and the words of other authors in the book. If you do get a chance to read it, we’d love to know what you think.
about C. S. Taylor
CS Taylor was raised on the fairy lit roads somewhere between the backstreet alleys of Jackson, Mississippi, and the jazz infested avenues of New Orleans. Now she’s settled in the open meadows of Iowa where the tulips grow thicker than the grass.
She spends her days teaching special needs and gifted children to read and write and spends her nights star gazing and ignoring her writing.
She graduated from Sterling College in 2016 with majors in Writing and Editing and Research Psychology. She graduated from University of Nebraska (Omaha) with her terminal degree in Writing and Editing in 2018.
From there, she plans to follow the River, Muse, and darling, that could take her anywhere.
You’ll find her primarily residing in the Folded World, a secret place that unravels at your touch, a doorway to places not even she can imagine.
For the Love of a Word: further exploration
Lastly, there is still time to enter the giveaway and win a copy of For the Love of a Word.
Also from the For the Love of a Word blog tour: watch this video review from a reader (her enthusiasm nearly exceeds my own).
Grace and peace,