1. When did you start writing?
"I love this question.
When I was a kid, about 9 or so, I used to spend a lot of time over at a fellow kid relative’s house. We must have watched the film Harriet The Spy (1996) until the VHS tape was destroyed. Like, I didn’t give a shit about the actors or the plot, if I’m truthful. My greatest obsession with Harriet’s notebook. Plain black and white composition sort of thing you can buy from any drug store. She carried it with her everywhere, heavy with penciled secrets and observations. It was a non-judging confidante. A cognitive processing tool. Perhaps most importantly, a safe space to bloom. Whatever it was lit a spark in me that never died.
I traded babysitting money, lemonade stand earnings, and meager dollars from completing chores for dollar store composition notebooks and sharp #2 pencils. The pencils always tore the thin, cheap paper, but I didn’t care. I dreamt of becoming a writer. I wanted to know everything, to write everything, to see everything from varied lenses like stained glass. And in many ways, I am still that wide-eyed little kid. I appreciate her curiosity and her desperation to ask, ‘what if, what if, and what if?’ I love her ability to view numerous perspectives at once.
So I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 9. I’ve kept all of them, and I love to read through them annually – usually in darkest phase of winter when it’s too cold to do anything outside. I cringe, cry, and laugh with my past selves. Journaling was also my original safe place to attempt poetry. My secret love for poetry led me to creative writing classes in college. And now here I am, trying like everyone else to feel like a ‘real’ writer, loving the journey as much as I hate it at times."
2. What is your method of writing? Notebooks, computer?
"For physical methods, it depends on the genre and where I’m at in the writing process. For journaling or general note-taking, it’s always pens (G2 Pilot – bold point) and paper. Occasionally, I will scratch out a draft on paper if I’m worried about the idea slipping away. I think since I started my Master’s program back in 2018, I’ve been more into composing drafts on the computer only because it’s so much easier to delete, replace, move, and change without making a mess of the page. I’d be a liar if I said moving from the page to screens didn’t make me feel traitorous. I still have feelings about this shift in myself. These days, I usually end up having to capture a draft of a poem in my phone’s notes app before I forget. For some reason, I am usually in the passenger seat of a car when these muses visit me. Nothing worse than telling yourself ‘I won’t forget this story/poem idea,’ and then totally forgetting."
3. Where do you draw inspiration?
"Nostalgia first and always. I find exploring old memories and past versions of myself fascinating and healing. Good for my soul. There’s a quote attributed to Anais Nin that goes like: ‘We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospect.’ That’s 100% my writing credo. It’s the obsessive in me that loves looking at things repeatedly until I have completely scratched all the paint off of it and only the essence remains.
A lot of my writing is admittedly sad, and I almost always write about real moments of my life. I like to look at the grit of life and lost love and relationships and the trauma we carry. The moments that really define one’s identity. One day, I will get around to writing from a space of joy (most definitely inspired by a lecture from Aimee Nezhukumatathil I was lucky enough to attend during my Master’s program). But I’m not there yet, and that’s fine by me. No pressure.
One more thing (and it’s a small rant): inspiration has always been something that’s alluded me and really pissed me off. I tend to write/produce slow because I wait for inspiration to show up. I can’t just pull ideas from thin air. I am infinitely envious of my fellow writers who have an excess of ideas bouncing around in their heads or who can pound out drafts like it’s nothing at all. It’s not for lack of trying on my part: I’ve done the free writing exercises and prompts and timed writing and the schedules. The quality of writing I produce when I force myself to ‘just write anyway’ is objectively awful – usually unsalvageable. I’ve always wondered how to expand that little idea producing pocket within myself!"
4. How do you know when a poem is done?
"With poems, I write a first draft and let it breathe. Sometimes, I can only make it through the night before the urge to have it looked over by friends becomes too strong. I am lucky enough to have a lovely, small writing community. Those folks help me determine what’s necessary and not. Where there is possibility for expansion or concision. Where I can be pushed do better. Where I can tinker and erase. I have some truly excellent writers in my life that help me grow. My favorite part of revision is scanning each word of the poem over and over to see if I can enhance the vividness of my work. Each of my poems goes through at least three rounds of comprehensive revising – sometimes many more rounds, of course. It’s hard for me to know when a poem is done, exactly. It’s usually a gut feeling I have. I know I’m getting somewhere when I’ve got my gang saying, ‘Damn, this piece is nearly finished!’
And like any other piece of art, sometimes you just have to let it go and hope it finds the right home."
5. How do title poems?
"I’m an absolute sucker for a long, dramatic title. Like, let your title punch me in the face and ruin me with emotion. I’m very likely to title and re-title until the essence of the poem has been dragged out and perfected. However, sometimes the title makes itself known before the poem (or essay) had a chance to be born at all. Then, I’m left wondering what the poem might look like for such a title. Sometimes, titles allude me altogether, and I must turn to my writing community for brainstorming sessions.
This is another one of those ‘it depends’ moments, I guess."
6. How did A Series of Little Damnits come about? When did you realize you had material for a poetry book? (Also, how in the world did you come up with a KILLER title like that for your poetry collection?)
"It’s a damn good title, I have to admit it. But I sort of feel I can only take half credit. A ‘little damnit’ comes from childhood shenanigans belonging to a loved one in which he proclaimed a mistake to be just a ‘little damnit’ instead of something more serious. The story always made me laugh. One day, I was sitting in my office during graduate school when I started thinking about the story more. I had this little epiphany about how life is honestly just a string of small “damnits” linked together like colorful garland or something. Again, my writing tends to be on the sad, emotional, and raw end of things. So, if I’m writing and compiling my damits to put them in a book, I thought ‘aha – a series!’ The title was born. And if I’m remembering correctly, this was one of those instances when the title came before the project was completed.
A Series of Little Damnits truly took my entire Master’s program (that’s two years). It’s evidence of my growth and expansion as a writer. The poems inside the book encompass all the shit I learned from my graduate school family, my beloved office mates, and my creative instructors. The pieces are totally my blooming. When I graduated during the beginning of the pandemic, I took time to compile what I considered my ‘best work,’ revise the manuscript, and place the poems into an order that made me happy. Overall, the process took months. I started sending the manuscript out during Fall of 2020. The day I got the acceptance from Ghost City Press for their Summer Series was divine!"
7. What project(s) do you hope to take on?
"I have a ton of writing goals. I’d like to complete another poetry chapbook and a full collection. I’d also love to put out a memoir or two someday (I am super inspired by Leslie Jamison and Mary Karr when it comes to essay writing). When I am not poem-ing, I am crafting creative nonfiction essays or flash pieces. Fiction is not my strongest genre, but it’s a muscle I continue to work on with the help of knowledgeable friends. Novels basically raised me, so I’d like to put a couple of those out into the world too. It’s always been my goal to be prolific and have an oeuvre of which to be very proud."
8. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"Tough question. I would say that I hope readers feel reached or seen somehow. Writing is really a conversation, and I hope someone can see my very naked soul on the page and feel like ‘damn, that was brave.’ And then maybe be inspired to do something brave for themselves – whatever that looks like. Even if it’s something as scary as feeling your feelings or being vulnerable or looking your authenticity in the eye. I’m about honesty and telling my truth in my writing. As long as I still have readers who can feel the rawness and tenderness of my work, I think I’m satisfied."
9. What writing advice do you find totally useless?
"I’ll narrow it down to my two lest favorite:
1) ‘Writer’s block is a myth.’
2) ‘Revision isn’t important.’
Absolute trash advice. And there is no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ way to be as writer. We just all have different ways that work or don’t, you know?"
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"I think my favorite thing in the world is deep conversation. Like the sort of conversation where you lose track of time and you’re sharing all these secrets with someone you feel connected too. I’ve worked in customer/public service since I entered the work force, so I can handle small talk. But I hate it. Screw the weather or local sports. Tell me about your hopes, dreams, fears, scars, and all the things you love.
If I can’t have a lovely conversation sitting on a porch with a beloved someone while drinking coffee, then it’s best to be walking aimlessly or with destination in mind. I get so wrapped up in my listening that I forget the ache in my feet after a while. These are the little things that make me feel alive and happy.
A brief list of other things that bring me immense joy: my cat, my plants, coffee, reading (my secret romance novels), Gilmore Girls, astrology, personal development, travel, art, and Harry Styles’ album, Fine Line."
Hear Maggie read her poem "In This One, I’m The Frightened Rabbit."
Maggie Finch is a writer from Wisconsin. She received her M.A. in English from NMU. When she isn't writing, Maggie enjoys reading, making up songs for her cat, re-watching Gilmore Girls, and tending to her indoor plants. She dreams of living in Paris someday. She is the proud author of A SERIES OF LITTLE DAMNITS (Ghost City Press - 2021 Summer Series). More of her words can be found in Third Street Writers' Beach Reads: Paradise, Gravitas, Mistake House, Mineral Lit Mag, Hobart, and Pidgeonholes.
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