Welcome to our newest blog series: Where Are They Now?
In this series, our editors interview past Literary Mama contributors to see what they’ve accomplished since publishing in LM and talk about their writing journeys.
This week, Senior Editor and Poetry Editor Libby Maxey caught up with Susannah Q. Pratt, whose third Literary Mama essay will appear in the March/April issue. Susannah’s new book, More or Less: Essays from a Year of No Buying (EastOver Press, 2022), won the 2021 EastOver Prize for Nonfiction.
Libby Maxey: You published a memorable essay with Literary Mama more than five years ago, Acknowledgements, in which you wrote about discovering a new interest as a reader and writer: looking for the “co-creators—those without whom an act of creation would simply not have come to pass.” Now, you have a prize-winning book of essays out in the world; how did you find the experience of writing your acknowledgments for that project?
Susannah Q. Pratt: Writing the acknowledgements for More or Less was so difficult for me! As my earlier piece in Literary Mama suggests, no writing gets done without a host of co-creators. If you think expansively about that notion, you can end up wanting to thank everyone from the pizza delivery guy who brought the dinner that allowed you to squeeze in an extra hour of writing, to the neighbor whose comment about his lawn got your wheels turning. So when it came time for me to write the acknowledgements, I felt I had to either narrow my scope or risk creating an acknowledgements section that was longer than the book! I opted for a very literal approach that thanked those who worked directly on my manuscript—my draft readers, writing coaches, and editors. Oh, and my family of course. But all in all, the whole exercise felt insufficent to the gratitude I feel. So many co-creators went unnamed!
LM: In a later LM essay, Get in the Car!, you likened the process of working on the essay collection to the chaotic dance of trying to get your three kids out of the house to go somewhere together. Have you found that writing and parenting have gotten easier over the years?
SQP: Great question! In another essay I wrote, I compare parenting to a roller coaster ride, with the early childhood years and their lost mittens and diaper changes like the slow, creeping ascent. Then, when your child is around age 12, you look at them and realize they will be driving in four years, and out of your house in six, and, to continue the analogy, suddenly you are rushing downhill, screaming with your hands in the air, and the ride is over before you know it. I am feeling this particularly now, as my oldest prepares to go to college next year. But while the time speeds up, I guess I would say, no, I don’t think the actual parenting gets any easier; it’s just a wholly different part of the ride.
Writing, too, seems to have different phases with different paces. In crafting the essay collection, for instance, I came to respect the slow and intentional art of revision. But, like parenting, I don’t think the process gets easier! One thing that does get easier over time is relaxing into an identity as parent and/or as writer. As you increasingly come to understand yourself as a parent or writer, you become more confident in your decisions and in your expertise. It’s there; it just always takes awhile to trust that it is there.
LM: Seeing a book through to publication during the pandemic is no small achievement. How have you managed your writing life during these past two highly unpredictable years?
SQP: During the pandemic, I had the great good fortune of joining More to the Story, an online writing community for women writing nonfiction (memoir, essay, etc.) and looking to complete an unfinished manuscript. It sounds like a pretty specific subset, but you’d be surprised how many of us are out there. (Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. They are probably LM’s primary readership!) This was an investment of both time and money, and I was nervous about making it, but it turned out to be the perfect fit for me. The deadlines in the program, and the encouragement of the writing community, were key to helping me finish More or Less.
Finding a physical space in which to write has been tough. My dining room serves as my office for my regular job and is therefore not conducive to a lot of creative thought. My best purchase has been a pair of noise cancelling headphones, which allow me to transform some of the more public spaces of my house—for example, my living room couch—into writing spaces. When my kids see the headphones on, they know I am trying to write. That doesn’t entirely stop interruption, but it helps.
In this most recent phase of the pandemic, I have gone in with two other writers in my community on a small communal writing space with three desks and lots of plants. Each of us feels like the space is something magical—the proverbial room of our own.