How did you become a writer?
I hesitate to answer this question because saying “I was always a writer” sounds unbearably pretentious but, in many ways, it is true. My parents always encouraged me and my sibling to follow our artistic interests, writing included, and they also read to us, so I have felt very actively connected to books and writing for as long as I can remember. There was never a moment where I thought “I shall become a writer!”—instead, since so much of my time as a kid was spent making up stories and poems, it was just what I already was doing.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.)
The writers whose work most influence my own I think are Mary Ruefle, Richard Siken, Kelly Link, Agha Shahid Ali, Kevin Prufer, Terrance Hayes, Rainer Maria Rilke and T. S. Eliot—those, at least, are the writers I never met but whose work I’ve read so obsessively that I’m sure some of their turns of phrase and tropes echo within my own lines. I’ve also certainly been influenced by my teachers—most particularly Jack Driscoll, Matthew Zapruder, Elizabeth Alexander, David Lehman, Meghan O’Rourke, Mike Delp and Nick Bozanic.
When and where do you write?
I primarily write at my desk (which is also our living room/dining room table) in my apartment and most consistently in the morning between 9-11 and in the early afternoon from 1-3.
What are you working on now?
I’m trying to pull together an essay collection. The unifying thread seems to be “things I’m interested in” which will probably not be a very appealing pitch to prospective agents but is a little catchier than “essays about wendigos, salt, writer’s block, Iceland, St. Anthony, Finnish coffee bread, Hecate, Sherlock Holmes, trickster gods, Odin, foxes, apples, skeleton keys, tigers who live in Harlem, sleep paralysis, and many other things.” I also must admit that I am mired in the research stage of a novel as well and am slowly slowly compiling my second poetry collection.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Haha. Yes. I wrote an essay about it recently. After my first book came out, I couldn’t write anything new for two years. I revised old work, and I started and abandoned many terrible drafts, but I couldn’t finish anything or produce words that didn’t feel dead. I tried everything I could to fix it to no avail, but eventually it lifted on its own. Since then, I’ve begun to look at the times when I’m not actively writing as natural and necessary. Much like how farmers will leave certain fields fallow or rotate the types of crops they produce so the soil can rest and regain depleted nutrients, I think that sometimes instead of writing, I have to spend that time reading or traveling or just living my banal daily life of paying bills and vacuuming and cooking dinner and trust that that rest period is part of my writing process.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
My high school writing teacher Mike Delp used tell us “This is all practice” and it made me so angry at the time because I was working so hard at my writing and I wanted to think that those poems were the real deal (whatever that means)—at the the time, “practice” sounded like a lesser thing. But the older I get, the more I think he was right. Everything I write is practice, practice for the next thing I’m writing. Regardless of whether or not any individual essay or poem gets picked up by a lit journal or if a manuscript gets published, it is still practice for the next day’s work and so on and onward. I find it very freeing to think that way now—we’re always doing the real work, but the real work is also always yet to come.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Be stubborn. That’s the only thing that really makes the most difference—more than talent, more than connections even (although those things help a lot too, of course). Write, read, take breaks to rest, mull things over, revise, but keep sending your work out. Even if the rejection letters pile up into mountains around you, try to trust that—if you keep putting yourself out there—eventually you’ll find people who want to hear your voice.
Kate Angus is the author of So Late to the Party (Negative Capability Books, 2016) and the founding editor of Augury Books. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic Online, The Washington Post, Best New Poets 2010, Best New Poets 2014, Barrow Street, Indiana Review and the American Academy of Poets' "Poem-A-Day" feature. Born in Michigan, she currently lives in New York.