Author Confessions: Em Strang
Em has recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing (ecological poetry) at the University of Glasgow, and is currently working on a first collection of poetry, Habitude. She also writes creative non-fiction and book reviews. She has published widely in anthologies and journals including Poetry Scotland, New Writing Scotland, Entanglements: New Ecopoetry and the Glasgow Herald. Em teaches Creative Writing at HMP Dumfries and is also working on two collaborative projects, with abstract artist Tamsin Haggis and documentary film-maker Inigo Garrido.
We interrupted Em's busy schedule to ask her some Author Confessions questions. Find out what she made of them below!
What is your worst writing habit?
Being interested in people or situations only because I can see they'd make interesting writing material. But there's a good side to that habit too: engaging with the world because I want to write about it, translates into engaging with people and situations I might otherwise have avoided and then coming to see them as valuable and lovable quite apart from any impulse to write about them. Really bad writing habit: conflating my poetry with my self. Other bad writing habit: self-deprecation. Jeez.
How do you react to negative feedback?
Negative feedback can facilitate major shifts in my work; positive feedback can't.
It depends entirely on how I'm feeling at the time. If I'm in a good space – robust, flexible, open-minded – then negative feedback is welcomed almost more than positive feedback because I learn so much from it. Negative feedback can facilitate major shifts in my work; positive feedback can't. However, if I'm miserable to begin with, negative feedback can be the proverbial straw.
Have you ever read a friend's work and lied about enjoying it?
Not with close writer friends, no. With writer acquaintances, yes. Some writers only seem to want to hear positive feedback about their work. This baffles me slightly (see above), unless they're a beginner writer. If I'm sure the writer won't be crushed by it, I'll be honest even if it means being negative. This has backfired on me in the past though!
What's your essential writing toolkit?
Time. Pen, paper, cup of tea. Peace (not necessarily silence). Devil-may-care attitude.
Have you ever lied about your writing to impress someone?
God, no. I kinda wish I had!
What is your honest daily writing routine?
I get up at 6am (sometimes on weekends too, sometimes not), go downstairs into the kitchen with paper and pen, make tea and write for an hour and a half before I wake the children up for school. Sometimes I'll be working on a specific poem; sometimes I'll just do automatic writing and see where it takes me. If I get up early at weekends, I get a longer stint because our daughters sleep late now or lie in bed reading for hours. In between times, I'll edit poems. I never begin new poems in the afternoon.
What is your biggest writing fear?
Never being good enough. Never growing up enough to see through the fear.
Which poets would you most like to invite to a dinner party?
Robin Robertson, Jen Hadfield, R.S. Thomas, Jo Shapcott, William Wordsworth, Les Murray, Elizabeth Bishop. It would be a picnic dinner on a beach in Scotland and there would be a moratorium on poetry. After food and drink, there'd be dancing. R.S. Thomas would not be allowed to boycott it. There'd be plenty of beer.
Has writing ever ruined a relationship?
Yes, once or twice. I'm really fond of Anthony De Mello's work and he has this great phrase in talking about humans and their failings: 'I'm an ass, you're an ass.' That pretty much sums it up for me. Writers are great asses sometimes.
What's your writing snack of choice?
Green & Black's 85% organic dark chocolate.