Interview with the Helicon West Coordinator–A Conversation with Shaun Anderson

Interview with the Helicon West Coordinator–A Conversation with Shaun Anderson

This week we interviewed Shaun Anderson (he/him/his), the current Helicon West coordinator. Shaun is a creative nonfiction and fantasy writer who dabbles with poetry.

Helicon West: Hello Shaun! Could you tell us a bit about where you’re from.

Shaun Anderson: I was born in Brigham City and moved to Alabama when I turned twelve. I spent summers traveling back to Utah to visit my older siblings at USU. Those Logan summers helped me see the beauty of this valley, and I’m grateful I get to call this place my home.

HW: What role does writing play in your life?

SA: Anyone who’s heard/read any of my writing knows that I’ve written a lot about being a queer man who grew up as a Mormon. My writing has helped me sift through the dissonance of those two core identities. I studied creative writing through an undergraduate and graduate program at USU, and planned to continue to pursue degrees and academic work in creative writing, but during the pandemic my plans shifted. I realized I wasn’t enjoying writing. I’d become competitive and arrogant. I dropped out of my MFA program and stopped taking my writing so seriously. I started writing cheesy romance, fantasy, terrible poetry. Now writing has become a hobby that I love to share with the people in my life. I’m part of an incredible generative writing group with guidelines that keep my competitive side in check. I still like using writing as a tool to help me sift through the dissonance of life, but I’ve realized writing is more than a tool to process trauma. It’s fun.

HW: How do you find consistency in writing practice?

SA: I adore Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Cameron recommends a creativity tool called morning pages: three pages, handwritten, every morning. It’s usually not “productive” (publishable) writing, but I’m grateful to sit on my porch most mornings with a cup of coffee and my journal. Normally my morning pages are nothing more than bitching about nonsense, but I’m happy to be writing. My writing group also meets twice a month, and I make sure I attend the Helicon West Workshop Series so I know that every month I have at least two-and-a-half hours of productive writing time. Community has been the trick for me establishing any sense of consistency, and I am so deeply grateful to the writers who are willing to sit in silence with me and write.

HW: Could you tell us a bit about some of your favorite authors, books, or journals?

SA: Hell yes I can! I adore The Sun. It’s a literary magazine that publishes monthly. I’ve got a stack of rejection letters from them, and I intend to keep making that list of rejections grow. If the writing The Sun published weren’t as heartfelt and human as it is, I’d think the title was pretentious, but damn, it’s good stuff. I also love T.J. Klune. If you want to read the most wholesome book, I cannot recommend The House in the Cerulean Sea enough. And finally, Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things came into my life at the right moment (early twenties, navigating dating men and leaving Mormonism). Tiny Beautiful Things is filled with empathy and an unflinching willingness to look at the harder moments of being human.

HW: What inspires you?

SA: Morning coffee. The mountains (the lazy sprawling mountains around Brigham City and the more ambitious, vertical Wellsvilles). Loud music. Sitting in the bleachers at a softball game and watching the rain through the stadium lights. Late night drives. Shooting the shit with friends. Baking. The world is vast and beautiful, and for someone who is inspired by the pursuit of beauty, this list could be endless.

HW: What advice do you have for up-and-coming writers?

SA: More people than you could ever imagine want to write. If you’re a competitive asshole like me, that’s really bad news. If you can keep your competitive nature in check, that’s the best news you’ll ever hear. If you want to be a writer, you’re part of a vast community of people who are often self-reflective, generous, and wise. Put yourself out there. When you read or hear a writer whose work you love, tell them. When you want advice from a writer you admire, ask them. Immerse yourself in that self-reflective, generous, wise community, and let it transform you and your writing.

Shaun will be emceeing the Welcome Summer Open Mic 25 May 2023 at 7:00 pm at the Cache-ARTS Thatcher-Young Mansion.


Interview with the Hilarious Tim Keller

Interview with the Hilarious Tim Keller

This week we interviewed Tim Keller (he/him/his), who will be leading our Taking Humor Seriously workshop. Tim is a writer of creative nonfiction, short fiction, and upmarket fiction.

Helicon West: Hi Tim! Could you tell us a bit about where you’re from?

Tim Keller: I’m from right here in Cache Valley. I attended USU when it enjoyed a reputation as one of the premier party schools in the country. Alas, I was blissfully if not bashfully unaware and fled the valley for Texas, Florida, and a veritable Odyssey of adventures in between.

HW: What is your current profession?

TK: Most recently, caregiver and computer repair technician, with a dash of gentleman farmer thrown in. I’m working on the transition to full-time writer.

HW: What role does writing play in your life?

TK: Writing, regardless of genre, breathes life into the past and illuminates what’s to come. I write to share and entertain, but also to discover. I love the challenge of finding just the right word or phrase, knowing that even the most innocuous of alterations can dramatically change the tenor of the work. I write because I read, which brings me great joy. A joy I hope I generate in others.

I’m particularly enthralled with change. With delving deeper than the thumbnails of memory for those long dormant details between what was and what is.

HW: How often do you write?

TK: I try to write every day, even if it’s only a few paragraphs, bouncing between projects. Of course, most are what I think of as blue-collar days, when I feel like more a bricklayer than a writer, stacking one word on top of another. It’s productive, but it’s also hard work. The part, the addictive part of process is when the muse shows up to make you better than you are. That I think is what we’re all after. Unfortunately, I spend most of my time chasing the muse. So I don’t produce as much as I should.

HW: How do you find a healthy life-writing balance?

TK: There’s no such thing. Most of the writers I know are delightfully unbalanced. When we’re not writing we’re thinking about it. When we are writing we obsess over making it better. I’m no different, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

HW: Do you have any pieces published?

TK: I’ve had a number of essays and short stories published and won numerous writing awards.

HW: How do you deal with rejection?

TK: In my experience as an acquisitions editor and judge for numerous writing contests, I’ve learned that sometimes the submission just doesn’t fit the publication. I feel like if you’ve done due diligence, made the piece as clean, and strong as possible, then rejection likely has little to do with the quality of your work. I operate under the premise that sooner or later, my work will find a home.

HW: How do you craft a piece with the intent of publishing it?

TK: I don’t. I write what moves me, what I like. Then I submit and hope for the best.

HW: Could you tell us a bit about some of your favorite authors, books or journals?

TK: I love almost anything character-driven, again, regardless of genre. Books like that come alive for me. So much so that I can forget I’m reading and immerse myself in the stroy.

HW: What advice do you have for up-and-coming writers?

TK: Write everything! And have fun doing it. Save the angst for revision.

Tim will be leading the Helicon West Workshop on 11 May 2023 at 7:00 pm, at the Cache-ARTS Thatcher-Young Mansion.

Interview with the Intern–A Conversation with Kyler Tolman

Interview with the Intern–A Conversation with Kyler Tolman

This week, we interviewed our intern Kyler Tolman (he/him/his), who is one of the winners of the USU Creative Writing & Art Contest. Kyler is a nonfiction writer and has been especially interested in speculative nonfiction lately.

Helicon West: Hi, Kyler! Could you tell us a bit about where you’re from and what you’re studying at USU?

Kyler Tolman: I was born in Boise, Idaho, and I’ve spent most of my life moving around to different cities in Idaho. I graduate NEXT WEEK from Utah State University, and I’ve got quite the laundry list of degrees after spending an indecisive five years here: 

  • I have a major in Biology with an emphasis in Human Biology
  • I have a major in General English
  • I have a minor in Chemistry
  • I have a minor in Sociology
  • I have a minor in Public Health, and
  • I have a Certificate of Proficiency in Digital Writing & Publication.

When you add to that my license in phlebotomy, it’s certainly been a wild several years. I started out as a biology student, and I planned on graduating in three years and heading straight to medical school, but the STEM community and field never felt quite right to me. 

I took my required English course in my second semester, and I was lucky enough to have Russ Beck as my professor. His class reminded me how much I loved taking creative spins on essay prompts, and he recommended I join the Sink Hollow Undergraduate Literary Magazine staff and the Writing Fellows program to help grow my writing and editing muscles. At the time, I also worked as a volunteer at the Logan Regional Hospital Emergency Department and was a member of the Pre-med Club. I started to realize that I much preferred my humanities-based extracurricular activities over my STEM-based ones, so I started to question if I was in the right program.

I ended up making a series of life-altering decisions in my second and third years at university: I left the church I was raised in; I added a second major in English; I decided not to go to medical school or PA school, and I came out as gay. People always talk about how college is the time to find yourself and to change and grow as a person, and I feel like the poster child for that mantra.

HW: What are your plans after graduation?

KT: As of now, I plan to work in the book publishing industry. I was accepted into the New York University Summer Publishing Institute, which is a month-long intensive course that focuses on book publishing in New York City. I’ll be working directly with industry professionals on a series of projects to help me establish a solid understanding of different facets of the field, and I’ll hopefully be leaving with a job offer. I am also considering applying to the NYU Masters in Publishing program next year, so we’ll see what happens, but it will be another exciting few years for sure.

HW: What role does writing play in your life?

KT: Writing has been a therapeutic outlet for me. I’m a nonfiction writer, so I’m regularly reflecting and looking for new ways to think about my life experiences. I grew up in religious, conservative spaces, and my atheist, liberal, queer, part-Asian self always felt at odds with everything and everybody else around me–writing about my experiences has helped me make peace with them.

I don’t have a regular writing schedule, but I’m always thinking of new ideas to write about. I have a couple of different notes in my phone with lists of my favorite words, figurative language ideas, and concepts for essays I’d like to write, so when an idea strikes me, I add it to the list. When I’m ready to sit down and Write an Essay™, I have ideas that have already percolated through my mind and have started to combine with other ideas. 

Last semester, I took an advanced nonfiction writing course from Dr. Jennifer Sinor that focused on speculative nonfiction. I’ve since fallen in love with writing speculative nonfiction, which is pretty niche and avant-garde even in the nonfiction writing community. In essence, it seeks to ascend the tower of abstraction to find ways to more truthfully communicate the feelings and deeper truths of an experience and is less concerned with the veracity of the events themselves and how exactly they happened. For example, my piece that placed in the USU Creative Writing & Art Contest reflected on the long process it took for me to accept my sexuality. The central speculative move is that throughout my life, I am followed by a physical fire-and-brimstone-esque closet door that contains the queer feelings I quashed. Without giving too much away, the effect of having an actual closet appear everywhere I went highlights my constant fear that someone would find out I was gay. I am a huge advocate for writing speculative nonfiction, and I’ll be leading a craft workshop all about it through Helicon West later this summer, so definitely feel free to come talk about it with me!

HW: Who are some of the writers that inspire you?

KT: My favorite author of all time is Alexis Hall. Hall is a gay writer that writes queer romance stories. I found his book, Boyfriend Material, at a crucial point in my freshman-year crises, and it was incredibly comforting to find a book that had main characters that I could relate to. His writing voice is so compelling–it’s the perfect blend of elevated language and humor, and I hope to emulate his voice in my own work. Alexis Hall’s writing is one of the greatest influences I had for switching the trajectory of my career away from STEM. My other favorite writer is none other than the music industry herself–Taylor Swift. A lot of people don’t immediately picture her as a writer, but I would urge them to read the lyrics of some of her latest work. I think her songwriting and storytelling in her sister albums, folklore and evermore, are especially impressive. If you’re new to looking at the craft of Taylor Swift’s music, I’d recommend listening to “the last great american dynasty,” “exile (ft. Bon Iver),” “my tears ricochet,” “champagne problems,” “Maroon,” and “Labyrinth” to get a sense of her latest work.

HW: What advice do you have for up-and-coming writers or students?

KT: As we all are, I’m still constantly learning about my craft and finding ways to improve it, but the most helpful thing I’ve learned is that being involved in our creative community makes a massive difference. I’ve been lucky enough to work in several capacities within the English program at USU and in Cache Valley (including the Sink Hollow Magazine, the Writing Fellows Program, a presentation at the National Undergraduate Literature Conference, and an internship with Helicon West), and these experiences have helped me find my place in the vast field of English. There are so many ways to be involved, but finding other people that are excited about the same things makes pushing through the hard times so much easier. Whether you’re a student or a new writer or a professional author, it is so important to have a safe creative community to fall back on.

Kyler will be reading some of his work at the Helicon West meeting on 27 April 2023.

An Interview with the Marvellous Millie Tullis

An Interview with the Marvellous Millie Tullis

This week, we interviewed Millie Tullis (she/her/hers), who will be leading our workshop on poetry and memory on 13 April 2023. Millie primarily writes poetry, but she also writes creative nonfiction and, occasionally, fiction. She has also been writing academic prose lately.

Helicon West: Hi, Millie. Could you tell us a bit about your background?

Millie Tullis: I grew up in Cache Valley, Utah. My earliest memories take place here.

I have a B.A. in English (Creative Writing emphasis), a B.A. in Philosophy, and a certificate in Women and Gender Studies from Utah State University. I also have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (Poetry emphasis) from George Mason University and am about to complete an M.A. in American Studies and Folklore from Utah State University. I feel like I have been in school for a very long time. But I generally like school.

HW: What role does writing play in your life? 

MT: I started writing in a diary or journal at a really young age. I think it was a place for me to process and recognize my emotions, but it was also a place where I experienced privacy. In my journal, I could be fully alone and iron out what I was thinking and feeling.

Learning how to be a creative writing major in college was a big change because suddenly I was in workshops. I had to produce stuff that was shareable for other people. I had an audience and they impacted how I revised and what I wrote in the first place.

Maybe most significantly, studying creative writing provided me with the experience of writing-with-others. One of the things I am most passionate about now is the intersection of writing and community. That’s also one of the things I love so much about Helicon West and the writing community here. So many people are passionate about writing-with-others.

HW: Has your work been published? How do you deal with rejection?

MT: I have been fortunate enough to be published and I’ve learned a lot from the publication process. I’ve met so many wonderful people through sending out my work. I love the feeling of seeing a piece of writing in a home that I think “fits” that piece. There are so many amazing editors/journals/small presses that foster community.

Rejection is a regular part of the process if you want to be published. You have to learn how to trust your own gut. If you love a piece, trust that someone else could love it too. On the other hand, I’ve had pieces that didn’t find a home and didn’t find a home and then I realized that they weren’t pieces I really loved. And it’s okay to let those go too.

HW: What advice do you have for new writers submitting their work for publication?


My advice for newer writers would be to not take rejection as feedback. It feels like feedback, but I promise it isn’t. There are so many reasons a piece is taken or not taken. Also: read literary journals. Read them before you submit. If you aren’t reading the work they put out, you don’t know if you’re a good fit. But you should also just be reading journals. Read what’s out there. Read what other people are publishing right now. There are so many different ways people carve out writer-lives and journals reflect that diversity so well.

One of my favorite things about my writing life now is that I get to publish work I love as the editor-in-chief of a digital literary journal, Psaltery & Lyre.

You can find some of Millie’s work on her website. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram @millie_tullis

An Interview with Michael Skillings–English Engineer Extraordinaire

An Interview with Michael Skillings–English Engineer Extraordinaire

This week, we interviewed Michael Skillings (he/him/his), a member of the USU Bull Pen Slam Team. Michael writes far-future sci-fi, fantasy, and occasionally also horror and poetry.

Helicon West: Could you tell us a bit about your background?

Michael Skillings: I grew up in Orem, Utah, which is nice enough. I love the mountains there. My sister and father and I used to do a lot of hiking and camping in the canyons behind my house. Not so much nowadays, though. I enjoyed high school at the time, but looking back, I am very grateful to have moved on. My first few years of college, I was pretty shut-in and socially isolated. It’s only been the last year or so that I’ve started to draw connections to Cache Valley and the people here, and Helicon West and writing in general has played a big role in that.

I’m currently a student at Utah State University studying electrical engineering, and I’m working as an engineering assistant at USU’s Space Dynamics Lab. When I graduate (eventually) I hope to work in the aerospace industry, maybe even for NASA in Florida. Some people are surprised to learn I’m studying engineering, even though I spend so much time and energy on writing. But ultimately, my major is nothing more than a major, and my job is nothing more than a job. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, but it lets me pay my bills. I get my self-actualization other places, like in my writing.

HW: What role does writing play in your life?

MS: Well, first of all, I don’t actually write that much. At least, not that much that I can really show off. I’ve never finished a novel, and I only have a handful of completed short stories or poems. But I do spend a lot of time planning, outlining, and writing fragments of what will someday be full stories.

I write because it gives me a chance to explore the question of, what if I were somebody besides myself? What if I were a woman in a futuristic space army, or a robot ninja sworn to defend a city, or an all-powerful hyper-god pretending to be a man, or even just a college student at a different school? What would be different? More interestingly, what would be the same? I think exploring these ideas helps me better understand who I am in real life, and who I want to become. And, honestly, it’s just fun to imagine.

I struggle very much to find consistency with writing. Someday I’ll figure it out.

I’ve never published anything. I hope to someday. But ultimately, I write for myself, so I don’t worry too much about making sure my work is publishable.

HW: What advice do you have for up-and-coming writers?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice. I still feel like I’m up-and-coming myself. But if I had to, I think the advice I’d give is, write something. Write anything. Write whatever’s on your mind. Sometimes, I feel pressure to work on a specific project or to set lofty goals. Sure, finishing things is important, but what I think is more important is that writing stays fun. Writing should be an escape. Don’t let it become another chore.

Michael will be reading some of his work at the Helicon West meeting on 23 March 2023.

Interview with Aaron Timm–One Half of a Helicon West Power Couple

Interview with Aaron Timm–One Half of a Helicon West Power Couple

This week, we interviewed Aaron Timm (she/her/hers), who will read some of her work at the Helicon West meeting on 23 February 2023. Aaron is a poetry writer, but she also dabbles in sexy short stories.

Helicon West: Could you tell us a bit about your educational background?

Aaron Timm: I grew up in Southern Utah, and it was a hellscape of bullying and adults in positions of power who did nothing to help me. I graduated from Hurricane high school and quickly failed out of what is now Utah Tech. It took me a long time to figure out what I was passionate about until my husband and I moved to Logan and we began attending USU. I found the English department and shortly after that, I found Political Science. In 2015 I graduated with two Bachelor’s degrees. 

While I do not work in any traditional sense, I have had the privilege of judging several writing contests, and I give as many free tarot readings as I can find time for. I will always dream of the day when I can teach about disability in literature and teach civics. I know that is an odd combo, but teaching in both of my passions would be amazing. 

HW: What role does writing play in your life?

AT: I write to express myself and, like many people, to confront my past and heal the wounds of the past. I have had the privilege of belonging to a poetry critique group since January 2019.

HW: What advice do you have for up-and-coming writers?

AT: I am not the best person to give advice, but I would say that if you want to write, make time to do it a little each week. I would also suggest sharing your writing at Helicon, because I would love to hear it.

HW: How did you get involved with Helicon?

AT: My husband and I were taking a summer workshop in 2009, it was one of those all day classes. Since we were creating poems the professor told us about Helicon. At that time summer Helicon was held once a month and at 6 instead of 7. This was awesome because it meant that we could check it out and then drive down to the Lyric to watch a play. Helicon was amazing, the readers were so passionate and very smart people said nice things about my writing which was a new experience for me. My husband Isaac and I became regulars and we even hosted summer Helicon a time or two. It has been great to be a part of the Helicon community and I cannot wait for the new library to be built so that I can be part of it again. COVID has thrown me for a loop and I have only been to one event since the old library closed. Well, except for the one held at our apartment complex. My first post COVID event was Helicon which is very appropriate as the friends we have made there have truly become our chosen family. I am a writer because of the people I met at Helicon readings. I have a full shelf of books bought from featured readers. Helicon was life changing for me and I cannot wait to be able to be more involved again. 

Thank you for letting me be part of this blog. I am excited to see the level of excitement the new Helicon team has. This event has been such a positive influence on the local community and that is clear in the drive and passion of those dedicated people who are making things run. I probably should say more, but I am at a loss for words. Helicon is amazing, I wish every community had something like it. 

Attached below are two poems that Aaron has written.


I am bleeding, and the blood tastes
like popcorn.
I am thinking of war poetry

I am bleeding, and the blood
tastes like popcorn.
I am thinking of stars

The sun over my shoulder
stuffs the Eastern sky with blue
My teeth bite down
squish a cloud of gauze.

I am bleeding.
My face is the moon
full, and radiant.

I am bleeding.
Cloud gauze shifts
stuffs empty sockets.

My full moon gauze face
I swallow buttered popcorn,
take two buses home.

End of days

I am being watched
Two cats, one black
The other tabby
Sit on either side of me

To be fed
The sun has not risen
The sky is flaming pink
It turns the yellow leaves

When I was six,
years before these cats
this morning, a boy
told me that the sky
would turn red
At the end of days

A week after his revelation
The setting sun stained
Wispy clouds a
Flame pink

I ran from room to room
My mother kept cooking
My father kept reading
My brother pushed his door shut
With his foot

How long did we have?
That boy never told me
I ran around again
Told everyone
“I love you.”

Then I sat on cool cement steps
Waited for the end

Aaron Timm

Teacher Feature—An Interview with Jessica Harrison Hahn

Teacher Feature—An Interview with Jessica Harrison Hahn

This week, we interviewed Jessica Harrison Hahn (she/her/hers), who will read some of her work at the Helicon West meeting on 26 January 2023. Jessica is a genre fiction writer, typically writing historical fiction, fiction, and sometimes speculative fiction. On rare occasions, she also writes flash nonfiction.

Helicon West: Could you tell us a bit about your background?

Jessica Harrison Hahn: I grew up and currently live in Davis County, Utah. My parents, though not artists or writers themselves, have always been supporters of the arts and of my writing. They also encouraged my decision to attend college with the goal of becoming an English and History teacher, which is my current profession. I attended Utah State University where I earned a major in English and a minor in History with teaching emphases in both. I also had the opportunity to work at the USU Writing Center where I cultivated a greater love of writing and the community writing creates. I now teach middle school English and am pursuing a Master of Arts degree in History through Eastern Washington University.

HW: What role does writing play in your life? 

JHH: When I was sixteen I was writing a story and I shared it with my aunt hoping for feedback. After she’d read it and marked some corrections for word choice and grammar, she asked me over to her house to talk about what I’d written. She offered wonderful verbal feedback, praised my creativity, offered helpful critiques of my characters and syntax, and asked me why I wrote. I explained that I liked the escape into another experience and it felt therapeutic to try and put a story together. Those same answers are still true now, but I’ve seen how writing is much more to me than an escape. I write to think. I often read with a pen in my hand, even if I never use it, because the writing instrument feels like a talisman for my thoughts and helps me focus. I am an avid journaler and use writing to think through my everyday life as well as some of the biggest decisions I face—and in that way, writing is still very therapeutic. Whether I am writing in my journal, jotting down thoughts about work, or building a creative piece, writing is an essential part of my life and how I express myself to myself.

HW: How do you find consistency in writing practice, and how do you find a healthy life-writing balance?

JHH: In terms of my creative writing, I try to keep time for it while balancing many other aspects of my life. My job can be demanding and most of my free time is filled with grad school work, so right now there is not an abundance of time for creative writing. I am fortunate to be a part of a writing group that meets bi-weekly and that time is often the only hours dedicated to creative writing. I hope to carve out more time for creative writing after my Masters program concludes. That being said, knowing that I have designated time to write and that I will use that time for writing makes it easy to step away and see to other responsibilities. In the seasons of my life where I wanted to write and didn’t, my life felt much more out of balance. But knowing that I have a sacred, deliberate writing time—however brief it may be—helps me to feel fulfilled in my writing and in my work and personal lives because I am finding a balance that works for me right now.

HW: Do you have any fun pre-writing rituals?

JHH: I don’t have a lot of writing rituals, though I know I have some preferences that help me feel ready to write.

When I feel stuck or I’m trying to think of how to continue a scene or story, I step away from my laptop and use paper and pen, usually a black pen. I think pen and paper help me slow myself down and not get so caught up in powering through a scene. They allow me time to sit with a scene and its characters until I get enough momentum that I can return to my computer, copy down what I’ve handwritten, and keep moving through the writing. I also build project-specific playlists. The tone of my music, if I choose to listen to it as I write, needs to match my writing. I also need music I am familiar with otherwise I get distracted by a new artist or song. 

If I’m really stuck, I’ll flip my notebook upside down or write from the side to try and get myself out of whatever groove I was in that clearly wasn’t working and find myself in a new, different groove. I typically write in the same places—at my desk or in my reading chair. I don’t do well writing in new spaces, though I often try. I love hiking and being outside and I’ll bring a notebook with me and try to give myself time to write at the summit of a hike or in a particularly beautiful place. But however good my intentions were, I never wrote a whole lot. For a while I was frustrated by how little I wrote in such inspirational places, but I realize that a majority of writing is just living and taking in one’s own emotions and experiences so that they are richer when it’s time to put them into writing. 

HW: What role has publication played in your writing career? Do you have pieces published? 

JHH: Publication is such a scary concept! I have wanted to be a published writer since I was in elementary school, which is a common and lovely goal! I have had minor publications in a poetry anthology when I was in high school, a short story in an online literary magazine, and an essay in a USU undergraduate argumentative writing collection. I have a novel burning a hole in my hard drive, waiting for me to finally put together a query letter to be sent to agents in the hope of publication.

HW: How do you craft a piece with the intent of publishing it?

JHH: I try very hard not to write with the intent of publication, but I also see that as a privilege I hold. I have a stable job and live in a double-income home and don’t rely on my writing to support any financial aspect of my life. I would love to publish more, but that is hardly ever my goal when I write. The dream of publication slowed down my writing process for years. I am one who gets caught up in what others might think of my writing and the fear of critique and failure stunted me as a writer. It wasn’t until I did some work on my mental and emotional health that I started writing for myself and my own enjoyment again (and that was when my writing not only happened, but got so much better). Writing to create a beautiful story based on something beautiful inside of you is the best thing a person can produce. Then revising and revisiting that work to turn it into something greater makes it, I believe, more publishable. Myself comes first, the story comes second, and publishing is a hopeful third. 

HW:  What advice do you have for up-and-coming writers?

JHH: My advice for other writers is to write because you love it. Let it frustrate you, let it make you cry or laugh, and love it. The best writing I produce comes from my heart and comes after I’ve given it time to sit inside my head. I don’t think I’ve ever had an immediate, original thought then wrote it down right away and had it be any good. I wish it was so easy, but time and attention make the best writing, at least for myself. 

Along with loving writing—write often. Allow space and time for writing, even if it’s in a journal or on your phone. I only have four hours a month dedicated to creative writing, but those four hours are exceptionally important and keep those skills working. 

Last advice of all, seek feedback and take it. That doesn’t mean you have to make the exact changes other people specify—definitely know you are in charge of your writing—but listen to what people tell you when they read your work. Then be brave enough to revise. Revision is hard and scary and it can be so difficult to get rid of good things in order to make room for great things, but it’s worth it. Your writing is not the sum of who you are, so don’t worry so much about perfect writing and focus more on what feels right and how you can make it even better from there.

Jessica Harrison Hahn