Beth Kephart is a writer, teacher, and book artist. Her new books are Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays and We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class. More at bethkephartbooks.com.
Does your writing ever surprise you? In what ways?
It must always surprise me. If it is not surprising me, it is not writing. I can’t know where any one sentence is going when I start to write it down; if I do, what’s the fun in it? And certainly I cannot know the ending of a piece. The work must remain a mystery, so long as that is possible.
What part of the writing process brings you the most joy?
The heat of it. The oh my God, did I really just remember that? Think that? Collapse that one thing with this other thing to find this third thing?
How do you preserve that joy in your writing in the face of rejections or setbacks?
I’ve been making blank books for others to write their stories in — books made of leather, cork, handmade papers, hand marbled papers, khadi papers, antique papers, word extracts. This is the joy, when the rest of the world says no. It is me saying yes to others. Yes to the stories that might write within those pages.
Do you have a specific revision process?
Sometimes something just works. Often it does not. The trick is knowing which is which and leaving the one alone while attacking the other, relentlessly. A piece feels ready for submission, to me, when I read it out loud and it does not shame me, either in beat or meaning.
Writing is most often a labor of love, where gratification is self-defined and can sometimes be delayed or subdued. What motivates you to keep coming back to the page?
I don’t feel physically well when I’m not writing. And I’m not writing a lot of the time. Which may just explain this ongoing awful pain in my (literally!) neck.
Do you think a writer’s nerves or anxieties about their work can positively affect it?
Anxiety in writing can be a push toward better. Not good enough? Make it better.
Rest is arguably as important as getting the words down, especially when we can give our brains a true rest and let them wander as they wish. What do you do to embrace this time and honor it as a space for regeneration, imagination, and possibility?
I make those blank books. I post them in my Etsy shop.
If you have a regular writing practice, what do you do to protect your writing time?
There is no regular practice, sadly. I’ve gone weeks now without writing, and with my teaching now in full gear, it could be months.
Where do you write? Do you have any rituals you follow before turning to the page?
Usually in bed, early in the morning, low lamp light on, a scrawl of handwriting. Or, in midday, between client calls, in my book room, which is pictured below.
What conversations do you hope your writing spark for readers?
What is true in your own life? Why does that matter?
Who is one writer you wish more people would read?
Right now I’m pretty keen on spreading the word about Victoria Chang. She’s well known in many circles; I hope she’ll be well known in even more.
What’s the best bit of craft advice you’ve been given, or some of your own that you’d like to share? Are there any craft books you’d recommend?
Well, well, I’m thinking: Should I? Should I mention here that I’ve written many a craft book now. Okay. Okay. I will. My newest is We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class. Here is a recent review, in Brevity. Some craft advice is quoted.
What words of kindness, support, or advice can you offer to writers who are just starting out or seeking their stride?
As a teacher of creative nonfiction at Penn, I have the great privilege of sitting in a room with writers who are full of vibe, vibrancy, promise. My number one ambition, always, is to create a community in which competition is banished (there shall be no “best”) and personal growth is celebrated. Within such a trusting, open, can-I-say-loving environment, extraordinary things unfold. And so my advice is to find a community that embraces you and helps you find the best of you in your work.
Any good news you’d like to end with?
I think I’ll simply slip in the link to my Etsy shop. This is the new in my life. And it makes me happy.