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Q&A with writer Emma Stockman

Read how writer Emma Stockman’s writing journey started with her mother giving her a journal, which sparked a love of story that led to a full-time career.

Q: What sparked you to become a writer?/How did your literary journey begin?

When I was six years old, my mother gave me my first journal. My mother’s a writer too, and so she knows how important it is for a young creative to have somewhere private and safe to put herself.

I used to obsess over making sure I wrote in my journal every day. It felt so important to me to record as much as I could about my life. It wasn’t that I thought the things that happened to me were so dramatic or amazing or important; what mattered was simply that they happened to me. When I read that journal now, all I see are sweet little snippets of pure mundanity: a childhood, unfurling.

The story of a life is long and strange. It belongs to each of us. I’m so grateful I had a mother who knew this, who gave me the pages and said: pour your heart out. Who honored my words and gave them a safe place to live and grow.

My identity as a writer has grown and strengthened so much over the years, but this is the origin point: a notebook, a pen. An invitation.

Before I was a writer, I was a journaler. Before I was anything at all, I was a child, realizing I was alive, and that I wanted to tell about it.

Q: What’s the earliest thing you remember writing?

In the fourth grade I started writing a novel. I would sit outside my classroom during recess, forgoing the games of tetherball and four square for my own imaginary world.

Of course, it wasn’t really my own world. The rough plot of my first “novel” was a messy mash-up of the two of my favorite books at the time: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and A Wrinkle in Time. It’s funny to remember the self-importance I felt at that age, the conviction that I was writing something unique and worthwhile.

And while it might not have been unique, I do still believe it was worthwhile. Even at that young age, I was already studying story, working through my own clumsy versions of Meg Murry’s dark, suburban initiation; exploring the rising and falling action of traveling to mysterious worlds full of strange magic. I was fascinated by the immediately recognizable threat of existential villains like dementors or The Black Thing, and the incredible tension they offer to any story about bravery and love.

I believe these early, guile-less imitations helped me develop a kind of a story-telling fluency that’s only grown stronger and richer the more I’ve studied.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of chocolate?

 I think my favorite kind of chocolate is Reese’s peanut butter cups. I love the mix of sweet and salty—I think it’s one of the best combinations ever! I love Twix for the same reason, but peanut butter and chocolate is hard to beat.

Q: What’s your philosophy towards teaching literature or writing and how do you describe your teaching style?

I believe all people are creative in some capacity. What makes someone an artist—a writer, a painter, a musician—is how deeply they listen to that creative voice inside them. Writers spend so much time listening. To strangers on the street, to family and friends, to themselves. To their characters.

Similarly, I think reading is also a creative act. It’s all about active listening! Readers are always listening to the text, and also to the response in themselves. In this way, reading and writing will always be different for each person.

As a teacher of literature and writing, this makes my job very different than a teacher of math or sciences—disciplines where there is one singular truth and method for arriving at that truth. Of course there are technical rules of grammar and speech that we all need to understand in order to communicate and be understood, but I don’t teach about these aspects of reading and writing.

To me, the most fascinating thing to teach about reading and writing is how to have a conversation about these skills. My expertise is not in telling anyone what to think about a text, or how to write a story. I believe my expertise is in knowing how to hold open a space to inquire—to speak, to listen, and to consider together what a text does, and how.

Q: What can people expect if they decide to participate in your class?

This class will be primarily about exploration. We’ll start each session with a body scan and some free-writing time, followed by different guided journaling exercises each week. These exercises will combine practices of inquiry like meditation and personal essay with the playfulness of generative creative writing prompts. The intention is to try lots of different ways of “dropping in” to that creative voice living inside you, so you can become familiar with the strategies that work best for you.

At the end of each session we’ll always have some time to share amongst ourselves. This sharing isn’t accompanied by any feedback or evaluation—it’s meant as a space for witnessing and collaboration—and will always be optional.

Listening to the sound of your own creative voice is very important, but it’s equally important to hear ourselves in a chorus of voices, to know we’re not alone in our experiences. This classroom will provide you an opportunity to get quiet and connected to yourself, while also creating a safe community to hold you in that practice. I can’t wait to see what we can learn together and from each other.

Q: Can you share a piece of advice that has helped you as a writer or literature professional?

In the first term of my MFA at the University of Oregon, our professor asked us to keep track, each week, of how much time we were spending on writing.

“That’s what you’re here to do,” he said. All the other demands of the program—reading for seminar and workshop, teaching, grading—were secondary to this objective. At the bottom of our weekly writing assignment, we were asked to jot down a record for him of the hours we’d spent writing, reading, and teaching. If our writing hours dipped, we got a little sad face penned next to our tallies.

Keeping track of the time spent on our other duties was a helpful way of seeing where the writing hours were getting lost—this is something I still do now, as a way of staying accountable to myself now that the structure of school has long since fallen away.

But the most important thing my professor said was: “It’s all writing. Scribbling is writing. Going for a walk is writing. Staring at a blank wall is writing. It all counts.”

If you give into it, it’s all writing. The story stays with you and tumbles around in your mind like a rock polishing itself—all you need to do is trust the process and keep putting in the time.

Upcoming classes you might enjoy

Prompt

Give your writing engine a jump-start at this monthly in-person generative writing workshop. Led by Wordcrafters staff, Daryll Lynne Evans and Jeaux Bartlett, you’ll play with prompts to jolt your creativity into writing action and generate new ideas and stories.

1st Thursdays, starting September 5 | Age 16+

Learn more! Prompt