Write like a reader, and read like a writer.
Today is the second installment in our “Where are they now?” guest post series. Every week this month, to celebrate The Little Bird Writing Contest and encourage you to submit your story, we are featuring a writer who has been published in a past volume of The Little Bird Anthology.
In these interviews, I try to understand how it feels for different people when they send in a piece of writing without knowing what will happen. This can be a vulnerable spot for all writers, no matter how seasoned they are. It’s also something that all of our contest winners have in common. So I asked each of them to reflect on their submission experience, and to share whatever insights might come up.
Today, we check in with Lindsey Smith, from Houston Texas! Lisa Moore chose her story, "Experience™," as a runner up in last year’s contest, and you can find it in Little Bird Stories Vol. 6.
I loved hearing Lindsey’s response to my questions, especially what she says about writing as an antidote to rigid thinking, and how it can challenge her (in a good way).
I think you’ll love reading this, too.
What led you to submitting to the Little Bird contest?
The quick and easy answer was that the judge that year was Lisa Moore, and hitting submit was a low-pressure way to get something I had written into the hands of an author I admire. But of course there’s more to it than that. I had started and scrapped tons of stories — stories that I wouldn’t particularly want Lisa Moore to read — before I hit on one that worked. And I can only chalk it up to good timing that this contest rolled around when it did, that by the due date I had a working story to submit, complete with beginning, middle, and end.
Did you know, after doing the Daily Prompt that day, that you had created something exceptional?
I wish. But I rarely have that kind of certainty, especially at first. At first, all I knew was that I had tapped into someone else’s voice. This nameless, faceless first-person narrator was not me, and I had no idea what he or she was going to say next. That was enough to keep me coming back. And the more I came back, the more I realized that I liked this story/really liked this story/loved this story. It made me feel something, and that seemed promising.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?
Do the work. Don’t worry if it’s “good” or not. Don’t worry if people will like it or not. As the great shoe giant Nike says in perpetuity, “Just do it.” And while that may be a dubious mantra in general, it works perfectly in this context. It’s painfully obvious as far as advice goes, but in the depths of self-doubt, it’s nice to have something sturdy and dependable to hold onto. Nothing fancy, no designer teas or sheds in the woods. Nothing to purchase, nothing to wait for. Just doing the work every day or every other day or whatever collection of days works best, carving out the time to write, read, write like a reader, and read like a writer. What follows is inevitable and miraculous: do the work and something will come of it.
What literary magazines (digital or paper) are you reading these days?
Issues of One Story fit in even my smallest purse, so I always have a mind-blowing short story on hand. On a similar note, I recently discovered Found Press. They also publish short story singles, these tiny hand bound masterpieces that are a joy to read. Both of these mini journals are fantastic, and their portability means I am much more likely to read than succumb to my iPhone. If the siren song of the iPhone wins, however, there is always The New Yorker Fiction Podcast as well as the newer series The Writer’s Voice which feature New Yorker authors reading their own work and the work of their heroes. This, while scrubbing dishes or commuting in rush hour traffic or pretending to work out. What could be better?
Why does writing feel important to you right now?
Writing is still the best antidote to my own preconceived ideas about myself, others, and the world. It’s the best way I know to challenge my views because it forces me to define what those views actually are. I hope that writing always keeps me tender, that the act of writing and defining and trying to understand continues to make me less myopic and more aware, more apt to appreciate the struggles and pressures and joys of the people I brush past on a daily basis. With the world being as fractured as it is, this act, this trying, feels necessary, maybe even crucial, in its own small way.
How has being a Little Bird Contest winner changed things for you?
When I heard that my story had made it, my attitude toward my work subtly shifted. I started taking myself more seriously. After all that time spent alone, someone had heard my words and understood what I was trying to say. That kind of validation can keep you going for months. It’s not the only reason to write, but it’s a pretty fantastic by-product.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully, the final draft of a novel I’ve been working on for a few years. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting close enough to mark The End on my calendar. After that, who knows?
About Lindsey: Lindsey Smith lives and writes in Houston, Texas. She holds a BA in English from The University of Texas at Austin and is currently at work on her first novel.