How did you become a writer?
Oh, I loved reading the dictionary when I was little. And I loved listening to folks read the Bible during worship. I wasn’t especially bookish, but I do remember being moved by stories and interested in language. I didn’t realize, though, that one could be a writer— that any of them were still living—until college. I found a lovely community of readers and writers on my college's literary magazine, and there I felt encouraged to write.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I was fortunate enough to study aesthetics with Elaine Scarry, fiction with James Wood, poetry with Helen Vendler, and writing with Jamaica Kincaid. What riches are wasted on the young: I met most of them when I was still a teenager, but return often to their work and to the authors they gifted me in their courses.
The authors to whom I return most often are Virginia Woolf, G.M. Hopkins, Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, and Marilynne Robinson. But probably more than anything, I read scripture: most often, the Psalms and the Gospels.
When and where do you write?
Anywhere and as often as I can.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a few essays, a collection of short stories having to do with animals, and a novel set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland called Tributaries.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
No, my writing life is very much like my prayer life. One has to make a habit of these things. Most days I pray with new words, but sometimes the old familiar patterns are all I can manage—the same is true for writing. Even when you cannot write something new, you can revise something old or let your hand trace some ancient pattern of letters. There is nothing more satisfying than writing out one of Keats’s odes by hand, especially when only a few minutes before you felt like nothing could be done with words.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Oh, how often does one hear: read more than you write? Probably not enough, so there: read more than you write. And not just blogs or whatever thing is making its way around the internet; read something old, something wise, something that has been read for centuries.
Casey N. Cep is a writer from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She has written for The New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She holds an A.B. from Harvard College and an M.Phil. from Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. Follow her on Twitter @cncep or visit her website at www.caseycep.com.