A Writer’s Habits: Emily Kossow

What type of writing do you do?
I write fiction, mostly short stories, although the length of my stories is usually not in my control. Originally, I had planned my first story for my thesis to be about twenty pages. It’s currently sixty-five.

Where is your favorite place to write?
My favorite place to write is a coffee shop. I know that sounds pretty cliché. Brew bakers is my favorite because the music is always in another language. I find that it helps me to be in an area with a lot of people so that I hear a general buzz in the background but can’t pick up on any one particular conversation.

What’s the first thing you wrote that you can remember?
When I was very young, maybe six, I started writing in a diary in the voice of a girl from the eighteen hundreds. I must have just read an American Girl Doll book (I loved those), because I so clearly remember wanting to write about dreary days and washing laundry by hand. I found that diary  a decade later; it was really funny to read through. Apparently I tired of that writing style really quickly, because there are only two or three entries in the entire notebook.

How early did you begin writing?
Technically I guess around six, but I didn’t realize that (a) creative writing was a thing I could do, and (b) that I liked doing it until a creative assignment I had in English class during my senior year of high school. We had to write another chapter that could fit into Julia Alvarez’s “In the Time of the Butterflies,” and I remember loving that task.

What’s your favorite thing that you have written?
I’m not sure I have a favorite. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve written enough good pieces to even have a collection that one could pick a favorite from! I do love the first long story I wrote in college because it feels to me like a very real representation of the pitfalls of life in suburban New Jersey, but it manages to have a happy ending.

Where did you find your subjects?
Everyone I meet, everyone I know. Most of my characters start out as compilations of real people.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently?
A short story by Wallace Stegner called “The View from the Balcony.” I wish it were a novel; I never wanted it to end.

What writers have influenced you?
Wallace Stegner, first and foremost. His short stories are brilliant, and his novel “Crossing to Safety” is literally perfection. Also Borges and Marquez for their love of the absurd and the fantastical, and their ability to blend magical elements seamlessly into the real world. Hemingway’s theories about how to use a back-story without actually writing it into the narrative has also influenced my most recent attempts.

When you start writing, do you start with a complete story in mind or do you pursue an idea and see where it takes you?
Either! Both. Sometimes I have a detailed outline (which inevitably changes drastically, but at least it’s a starting point), and sometimes I just put a character on a page and go.

How do you know when you’ve reached the end of a piece?
If the story has multiple plot strings, I know I’m done when I’ve tied them all together neatly, but mainly it’s just a feeling that I’ve said what I meant to say.

How much do you consider the reader when you write?
Almost not at all in the initial writing phase, but during editing I think about how my piece could come across, and I make sure that I am comfortable with that.

Is there a particular person who you share your early drafts with?
I share my early drafts with my wonderful, incredible, I-don’t-know-what-I’d-do-without-her writing professor.

What has your favorite writing class at Wes been?
My favorite writing class at Wes was Paula Sharp’s COL201

What has your favorite writing class at Wes been?
My favorite writing class at Wes was Paula Sharp’s COL201 Writing Short Fiction. I had never considered fiction writing before as anything I would do even remotely well, so her class literally opened up a world to me. I was introduced to the writing community at Wesleyan which I did not know existed! And I met so many incredible authors, both famous ones and students here.

Are you writing a thesis? What is it about?
I am writing a thesis (almost done!). It’s a collection of short stories – all fiction – that explores illusions in our perceptions of the world. Basically, I tell three stories of people who see the world one way when the reality is, in fact, quite different. Some of the protagonists eventually see what’s true, and others become totally engulfed in their own illusions about the world around them.

Are you involved in any writing groups or events?
I go to the writing-related lectures and master classes whenever they happen! Otherwise, not really.

Do you hope to pursue writing in the future? How?
I definitely hope to pursue writing in the future, but I have absolutely no idea how I am going to do that. Often, it seems to me like writing is just something selfish I do for fun like someone else might build a boat. I like learning the tools of the craft of writing, and I like putting my new-found skills into practice, but what am I actually contributing to anyone but myself? I’m not sure. I’ll probably keep writing because it’s a great way to think about what’s going on around me, and writing time is when I get to let my imagination take over! That’s probably what I love most about writing; it gives me the chance to uncork all of the creative energy that I don’t use when I write critical essays or take a calculus exam, to put my dreams to use, to let my imagination fly as close to the sun as it wants without getting burned.

Emily Kossow is a senior Psychology and French Studies double major. A Writer’s Habits is a series of interviews with student writers on campus.

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