Some creative spirits are inspiring by the work they do and others by the effortless encouragement they infuse into the atmosphere around them. Valley Haggard offers the literary world both sides of this equation.
Valley Haggard has been a Waffle House waitress, a stewardess on a cruise ship, a cabin girl on a dude ranch, the book editor for Style Weekly, a board member for the James River Writers and the director of Richmond Young Writers. She is the recipient of a 2014 Theresa Pollak Prize and a 2015 Style Weekly Women in the Arts Award. The founder and curator of the online literary magazine lifein10minutes.com, Valley leads creative nonfiction workshops and retreats for adults, helping open a dedicated writing center on Cary Street in the heart of Richmond, Virginia’s Fan District in January 2017. She is the author of The Halfway House for Writers and the co-editor of Nine Lives: A Life in 10 Minutes Anthology published by Chop Suey Books Books June 2017.
Q & A with Author, Editor & Creative Inspiration Valley Haggard
Kris: What does the word “editing” mean to you?
Valley: Editing is both a siren and a monster; it excites and terrifies me. While it’s great to be far enough along in the process to have something to edit, I have found that if I’m not vigilant, I am easily susceptible to the devastating effects of perfectionism where nothing is good enough and editing is the never-ending task of Sisyphus. Which is why I’ve started setting a timer not just to write but also to edit. After a certain amount of editing, I’m learning to accept the work as it is, without editing the life out of it or stripping it all the way down to the bone.
Kris: Tell me about your editing process. Do you edit as you write, only after you finish, or a little bit of both?
Valley: Back in the day when word counts and journalism deadlines ruled my life, I painstakingly edited my work word by word until each sentence was perfect and I wanted to stab my eyes out. I’m now a die-hard believer in editing only after I’ve finished getting my big ideas and thoughts and feelings all the way out onto the page. That way, they’re not dismembered before they’re finished being born. I write for short bursts until I feel emptied out and have a collection of partial pieces to weave together into a whole.
Kris: What do you wish you knew about the editing process a long time ago?
Valley: I wish I’d known a long time ago how unnecessary it is to force a piece to emerge before it’s ready. I’ve often had a profound sense of urgency to get everything written down and finished yesterday, but I’m learning that certain stories simply will not come until they are ready. The writing and editing processes go much more smoothly when I find the natural rhythm of my work rather than forcing it.
Kris: And your natural rhythm comes out so clearly in your writing. Do you have any advice for memoir writers on how to revise their writing bravely, digging out their own authenticity and vulnerability?
Valley: I think of writing as a process of extracting splinters. When I sit down to write, I search for the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual thorns piercing my internal landscape, and then I use the pen to extract them one by one. Honing in on these sore spots and pulling them up rather than pushing them down keeps me emotionally honest. I encourage writers to reach toward their pain and mess rather than running away from it or shellacking it over with a fake gloss. Emotionally honest writing is what appeals to me as a reader, so I try to hold myself to that standard as a writer as well.
Kris: Now getting into the nitty-gritty side of editing, is there a confusing word pair that is your weakness or that you seem to notice incorrect other writers’ work more than others?
Valley: OK. Yes. I cannot for the life of me retain the difference between lay and lie. I have to look it up every single time I write it down. At this point, I just write lay/lie and hope it will be corrected by a better editor than me. In elementary school, I was called a creative speller and I honestly haven’t improved too much since. I have resigned from my one-time self-appointed position as Chief of Grammar Police. I wanted to be high and mighty, but I was never very good at it myself. Now I’m just happy that my students, children and adults, are really digging deep and sharing their amazing, brilliant stories with the world, polished or not. Thank God for brilliant editors. I rely on them heavily.
It makes me so happy to hear gifted writers say how thankful they are for the editors in their lives—not as a matter of wanting credit as an editor, but as a matter of seeing writing as a partnership. Sometimes, a talented teacher like Valley is needed to draw those splinters away from the bone and into the creative light. Sometimes, editors are needed to smooth, sand, and polish brilliant ideas so that they can be as piercing as ever. Sometimes, creative work needs to be workshopped and/or beta-read to bring it from pointy to poignant.
Of course, for those looking for free editing, a few days remain on my Summer 2017 Editing Giveaway. A silly, savvy language trivia online quiz determines the winner. (Enter Grammartopia Online today!)
Thank you so much, Valley Haggard, for taking the time to chat about your creative process, and happy writing, folks!
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