National Writing Project

Why I Write: Leslie Goetsch Writes Because She Has To

Date: October 10, 2011

Summary: Maryland Writing Project teacher-consultant Leslie Goetsch discusses writing her first novel, Back Creek, and explains how writing and teaching are intertwined in her writing process.


How did you become a novelist?
The short answer is because I seem to be incapable of writing a story and I am definitely incapable of writing a readable poem. I read a lot of novels and my most satisfying reading experiences are novels that I've been able to "fall into" and not want to get out.

My writing process fits better with the novel form: my writing time is necessarily short, but consistent. I seem to work better with a less intense writing time that allows for characters and scenes to develop right before my eyes—literally.

What are the things you're most proud of having written, from any time in your life?
I am proudest of the pieces that I have nursed/bullied along to completion. My first novel (ten years in the making!) Back Creek, is certainly a piece of writing I am proud of, particularly when a reader responds, "I know exactly what you mean." I have another completed manuscript lying on my desk—a "coming of middle age" novel which took one-tenth of the time to finish.

I am also proud of my attempts at a new (for me) form of writing: blog posts for a website my daughter and I are launching soon: The Dalai Mama Project . It is good to know that I can adapt my style to different forms of writing.

I seem to work better with a less intense writing time that allows for characters and scenes to develop right before my eyes—literally.

How would you describe your writing process?
Coming to terms with my writing process has been a challenge. After much reflection and a long process of elimination, I have come to understand that for me, writing every day for a relatively short period of time—1-2 hours—very early in the morning, works. I do a good deal of prewriting in my head and I had to learn to be OK with that. I seem to need that bit of space between writing periods to process what comes next. I try to read fiction that has some connection to what I'm writing and if need be, I will research as I go along (but, I admit, my research is usually just about finding out enough to convince the reader, not about maintaining historical accuracy).

Switching gears is always a challenge for me, which is why I prefer to write first thing in the morning, before I start worrying about what I'll be doing with the rest of the day. And if I fall off the wagon and miss a significant number of early mornings, it gets harder and harder to get back into the rhythm of writing.

What is the strangest or most interesting thing you've ever written about or researched for a writing project?
I recently researched the origins of Mother Goose for a post on our blog and I am about to research the secular aspects of a rosary.

How do outside forces influence or shape your writing?
Worrying about the commercial side of publishing can be absolutely paralyzing. That being said, it's hard not to think about what will be of interest to an agent or publisher. I try to draft without worrying about what will "sell" the novel, but in revision and editing, certainly more commercial considerations come into play. Whatever I am reading can have an influence on the shape the writing is taking. My writing group always helps me find my way in any writing project.

Why do you write?
Because I can't stop myself!

About the Author Leslie Goetsch attended her first invitational summer institute in 1984 at the Maryland Writing Project, where she now serves as the special projects coordinator and directs the Student Writers' Workshop.

She was awarded a Maryland State Arts Council grant to develop her first novel, Back Creek (Bancroft Press, 2008), about 18-year-old Grace Barnett, who witnesses a strange boating accident that propels a series of life-shaping events.

Goetsch, who is at work on her second novel, currently lives in Baltimore with her husband and two children.

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