Katey Schultz is an incredibly talented writer with an interesting story to tell. I met her during the recent Interlochen Writers' Retreat, where she was one of the assistant faculty. She has work forthcoming in "inks to her work are here. Today is the sixth anniversary of her blog, The Writing Life, on which Katey has documented not just the daily life of an emerging writer, but a fascinating journey across the United States which began two years ago. All good reasons, I thought, to talk to Katey in more depth.
Philip: Why did you decide to start a blog? As an online journal, promotional tool, or another reason?
Katey: Back in 2005, blogs were still relative babies in the internet world. I knew enough to know it might be fun, but when I created The Writing Life Blog, I had no idea how much blogging would take off in the years to come--or how much I'd come to enjoy it myself. My initial impulse was spurred by a change in my career and I wanted to mark that change publicly somehow. A blog seemed like the right thing to do. Never mind that I only had dial up Internet, didn't own a digital camera or cell phone, and lived in a cabin with no indoor plumbing. I'd been teaching teens for five years and decided to leave that to pursue the writing life--whatever that might come to mean. I found a job 15 miles away slinging coffee and mopping floors for 6 hours a week. One shift, that's all they could give me; but I had my foot in the door and eventually worked my way up to 25 hours a week with benefits. That job at Penland Coffee House supported me through grad school and taught me how to balance a steady paycheck with the unsteadiness of being a writer. Incidentally, the first post I ever wrote details my first day on the job.
Philip: What’s your daily routine with the blog?
Katey: The concept is really pretty simple: I write 250-1000 words in 30 minutes or less, 5 times per week, no editing or futzing allowed. I'm not publishing freewrites in their purest form, but I'm also not publishing fully formed or polished essays. The blog is, in many ways, my sketch pad. I try to put a conscious effort into providing my readers with variety, interesting information, specific details, and telling a good story. I rarely blog about blogging, complain publicly, or use my blog to incite controversy. I prefer to stick to the realities of what matters in life when you're trying to make it as a writer. How does a writer experience and make sense of the world? What does a writer do to feed the creative spirit? To empty it onto the page? To fill it back up gain? The end result is, I think, a blog with content including things like: explorations of landscape and culture, musings on my own literary challenges and successes, honest commentary on the highs and lows of the creative process, and keen observations about the human predicament--all packaged up in what I hope is a slice-of-life post that can leave a mark on someone's day.
Of course, a big part of pulling this off is discipline, and by that I mean not just the good ol' fashioned toosh-in-chair method of writing, but also honing a particular way of seeing the world. When I first started The Writing Life, I blogged seven days a week, no excuses. Then I cut back to five. I stick to that 95% of the time but if I'm sick or traveling I give my self a waiver and if I have an event or publishing news, I announce it on the blog. After six years of this nightly routine, I have to say that in some ways my daily life shapes the blog as much as the possibility of the blog shapes my day. I often find myself taking a snapshot so I can use it later on the blog, or seeking more information in conversations in case there's a hook for a possible blog post. To that end, writing for the blog has become a way for me to make sense of the world one day at a time. Each night I sit down to compose, I have to try and find a narrative thread from the day that I can weave into a meaningful, fresh post. In this way, I seem to be using the truths of my daily life to practice finding story, which of course is a really important muscle to be exercising since I primarily identify as a fiction writer.
Philip: During the last two years, you’ve been living on the road. Can you tell us about this ‘writing life’?
Katey: The other big shift in my life happened when I finished grad school and was simultaneously laid off from my job at the Coffee House. This was at the height of the recession. I decided to hit the road for 2 years (or more), attending writing residencies and fellowships across the United States. I had the teaching degree to help me earn a little income along the way, but by and large I stuck to organizations that offered fully funded residencies or fellowships that paid a modest stipend in exchange for very part-time teaching. I've organized a page on my blog that outlines each stop along the tour, highlighting the best posts from my journeys. That can be found here, and might be a good resource for other artists wishing to attend residencies themselves. Since January 2010 I've been Writer-in-Residence for Interlochen Arts Academy, Weymouth Center for Arts & Humanities, Fishtrap, Jentel Foundation, and more.
The Christmas before my two-year tour started, I moved 17 boxes of books, my grandmother's chairs, and 3 instruments into my parent's attic. I don't own a home, so it was either there or a storage unit. Everything else I own fits into my 1989 Volvo station wagon and that's how I get from place to place (ok, well, I flew to Alaska). In January 2010 I hit the road and it's been, in many ways, a writer's dream. Nineteen months into the tour, I've met more talented and innovative artists than I can count. I've seen parts of the country I'd never seen before. And I've been humbled by the support given to me by other artists. I've snowshoed across a frozen lake, inadvertently charged a bull moose while looking for the Northern Lights, taken Iditarod sled dogs on a training run, lived in a haunted mansion, coached hundreds of teen writers in flash fiction, watched bald eagles in the high desert of Wyoming, been caught in an Eastern Oregon cattle drive, seen the first signs of spring in the deepest canyon on the North American continent, and listened to world class musicians perform lakeside in Michigan's North Country.
The flip side to all that are the uncertainties that come with living life on the road. I'm not always certain how I'll make ends meet, where I'll be living, or if I'll get accepted for a residency I have my heart set on. This has forced me to try and live even more in the present moment--that's all we have anyway, isn't it?--which is especially tricky when I'm constantly filling out applications for the future. Most days, I can laugh at the irony of this. Some days, the uncertainty gets me down. But always, always, I have the great fortune of moral support from my family and friends and that puts it all in perspective. They help me remember that even though bravery sometimes feels like insanity, and dreaming sometimes feels like foolishness, at the end of the day I'm doing exactly what I should be doing.
Philip: Your fiction has claimed an impressive list of awards recently. As well as writing, you also teach, co-edit a literary journal called TRACHODON, and do karate. How do you see each of these parts of your life developing in the near future?
Katey: In 2010 I was able to research and finish (in draft form) my first full-length body of work, Flashes of War. This is a collection of 29 short stories told from the perspectives of various characters in and around the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm currently seeking an agent to represent this book, and sending out individual stories for publication in the hopes of getting as much of this writing out into the world. In the meantime, I've started a quirky series of flash fictions involving minor urban catastrophes. It's sort of my way of playing around on the page with rather mundane subject matter after writing about war for so long.
With regard to TRACHODON, it's a labor of love and also one I anticipate being in a long-term relationship with. I manage the magazine's blog, Cheek Teeth, as well as get to participate in publishing TRACHODON in all digital and print formats. You can even read it on a smart phone, which is hilarious to me, since my own phone is "dumb." But still--it's out there, and it's my way of encouraging emerging writers in the field to keep on writing. It's no secret that a story can change someone's life. Getting to be a hand behind the scenes that helps bring those stories into the public domain is really thrilling.
Martial arts is a passion for me, no doubt. The great thing about being my own writing boss is that I wake up most days and get to decide what I'm going to do. Martial arts balances that out, because when I train it has nothing to do with what I want to do or how I'm feeling or what kind of mood I'm in. You show up to the dojo. You put your gi on. You do what you're told. That outer discipline very certainly helps shape my inner discipline. In the end, martial arts is more about mental training than physical training, and that includes battling your own demons. As artists, I think we all know a little something about those demons. It's nice to have a physical activity that correlates conceptually with the ways in which I hope to grow as an artist.
Philip: Finally, congratulations on six years of blogging. What do you think ‘The Writing Life’ will look like on its 10th anniversary?
Katey: Perhaps by then I'll have a smart phone and I'll be blogging from a laser-projected keyboard displayed on the dashboard of my Volvo. Perhaps I'll own a home, have a book or two, plant a garden. Whether my hands are gripping the steering wheel or harvesting potatoes, I imagine The Writing Life will still mirror my daily attempt to make sense of the world through the most powerful tool I know--words.
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