Summer in Words

Writing Conference


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Interview with Polly Campbell

Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize  your writing time?
Full-time – job, working part-time hours around my 4-year-old daughter’s schedule. Three days a week I work 8:30 to 12:30, then fit the work into gaps in the rest of the day. I start by handling the business, checking up on invoices, queries, blog material. Investigating studies on line for  future story ideas or support for my book chapters. Then I’ll go into the writing about 9:30 and write on the blog, articles, book – all three sometimes. I pick up my daughter about 12:30 or 1 p.m., wait until 5 p.m. when my husband gets home and start complaining that I don’t have enough time to write. Often, I get up at 6 a.m. to get in an hour of revising before my daughter wakes up.

When did you first start writing and what did you write?
Developed a school newspaper in second grade. Never stopped. I’ve  spent most of my life in non-fiction newspapers and magazines, but  have also written fiction – a couple of short stories and part of a  mystery book. The fiction feels like a release, a chance to explore something else without deadline or pressure of publishing since most of my focus right now is on non-fiction work.
What is the toughest part about being a writer for you and how do  you get past it?
The toughest thing changes from time-to-time but right now, it’s keeping up with the marketing and social media that more and more publishers and editors want you to do to develop a readership. This in itself, is a full-time job. And even mag editors now want you to blog nd develop some presence outside of your byline because that is what people respond to. It’s relationship building. I get that. I understand that. But, with limited time to work – which is the case for everyone – it’s tough to put that time into the marketing when I  want to be developing ideas or writing about them. Still, I’m committee to this work and I’m willing to do it and learn about just so I can keep writing professionally.

Could you talk about your writing process?
I sit down at the computer. I panic. I get up get coffee. I think  about how I must clean my desk and then I email my husband to tell him  I must clean my desk. Then I check my e-mail to see if he’s responded  to my previous e-mail then I start writing. I like to start at the  beginning first – so in a mag piece that’s an opening or lead. If I’ve  already written it, that’s where I start working it over too…start  at the beginning. If I’m working on the blog or book, I read through  the whole that I’ve written previously first, then I check e-mail  again, and finally I settle down and throw up the all the material I  have in my mind, onto the page. I don’t work from my notes directly,  until after I get something up on the page. Often just throwing out  all the information or ideas I have in my head onto the page. This  makes me feel better. Even if it’s a mess of ideas, I can see  something and that means I have something to work with. Then I can go  back later and revise or edit, or cut or fill in quotes ore research or whatever. Once, I have it out, I feel better, even if nobody ever sees it. Which at this early stage, when it’s a mess, you’re hoping  nobody ever sees it. If  I’m struggling with getting anything out,  I’ll make all sorts of deals with myself: Just write 200 words then get up and get coffee. Just get through the first section…whatever. Usually, if I get past the 200 word point – no matter how long the piece – it’s sucked me in and I’m drawn into the article or the chapter and I can keep going.
How do you take risks with your writing?
Right now I feel like I’m in a particularly “risky” phase. I’m writing about personal development and spirituality – topics that are very important to me and that also happen to be important to a lot of  people and therefore can be potentially volatile or polarizing. I’m also writing, on my blog and in my book, more in first person. I haven’t done that much…in the olden days, as in five years ago in magazine work, first person was still pretty limited, but now editors  and readers want some personal connection so there are more opportunities to do it. It’s really forced me to be more honest, clear, human, scared. I’m out there in all my neurosis and frustrations and imperfections sharing a little more about my own  life. I feel very vulnerable. It’s also been exciting and rewarding
and challenging. Another thing I’m working with a bit, is structure. That is very risky in mag business – they want quick hits and bullets and clear sentences. In some of my writing I’m really becoming more casual in my writing as a way to become closer to the reader – that doesn’t always make for beautiful sentences or language, but I want to be among the readers in some of my work as opposed to being a writer talking to readers. It just depends what I’m working on. Finally, the blog is not something I ever wanted to do, or ever thought I would do  and I love it. I’m playing with ideas and working without a net (no editor) and it’s freeing and scary and interesting. The feedback I’m
getting from readers is so immediate and encouraging.

What books are on your nightstand?
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Palace Council – Stephen Carter
Siddhartha – Hesse

What are you working on now?
Book and blog Imperfect Spirituality and several article for Gaiam
Life Magazine, an on-line site – and the Psychology Today blog
Imperfect Spirituality.

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