Thank you to Jenna Leigh Evans for asking such excellent questions. She also has a fantastic novel that came out last year, “Prosperity“, which I highly recommend.
SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: AIMEE HERMAN
Aimee Herman! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?
I’m a poet, so most of my work is published without compensation. I chose poetry (or poetry chose me) and I know it’s not a moneymaking genre. But it keeps me alive. I want to be read. At the end of the day, that is what is most important. However, there are some journals who apply for grants and graciously pay their writers, so there have been times I’ve been compensated with money. Otherwise, it’s usually contributor copies, which is more than enough. There are often small teams of hardworking people working to keep these journals alive, so I don’t expect to be paid; they aren’t even being paid.
Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?
Livelihood tends to be equated with income, but for me, it’s about nourishment. I feel nourished and filled-in when I write. I feel like I’m traveling, like I’m having a conversation even though I’m all alone; like every scar on my body is being properly translated. I will write regardless of how it affects my bank account. Luckily, I also really love how I spend my days making money, which is through teaching. I always struggled as a student, from day one even through graduate school. I have a difficult time with authority, and I’ve always been restless sitting in those tiny desks. But being a teacher extends the conversation of words and thought.
If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?
A writer writes. I don’t want to oversimplify it because it can be extremely difficult to find the time, but it is there to be found. I wake early, or I say no to invitations, or I set up extremely hearty writing dates. When I teach creative writing, I often do the assignment I give my students, so there is further encouragement.
How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?
I read it out loud. To myself or to an audience. I perform a lot and that really helps me to gauge what works and what doesn’t. I search for the rhythm. I watch/listen for responses. For me, nothing is ever done, even when it’s published. I rework old poems all the time. Rebirth them into different forms and extract lines to create new ones.
When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?
See above. But also, there are times that — especially when workshopping — one could easily cut too much out. It’s like when I cut my hair. When I was nineteen, I had a bad day, went home, and decided to give myself bangs. This is often not a good idea when one’s hair is curly like mine (though I’ve seen some curly-haired folks really pull it off. See: Kim Addonizio). Then I started fumbling with the rest of my hair. Chopping away strands. I grabbed my then-girlfriend’s clippers and began shaving away my hair. I was left with nothing. Really. I over-revised and ended up with quite a mess. Sometimes it’s necessary to leave parts alone.
Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?
I have no choice. It arrives in me like breaths or hunger. I cannot control it. And I am grateful for this calling every day.
BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?
Hmm…..not sure I read any book too young, but I did get my hands on a really old copy of Naked Came the Stranger written by Penelope Ashe (rather, many writers calling themselves that) at a garage sale when I was in high school. I don’t think I was too young for it, but I didn’t “get it” in the way I did a few years later. It didn’t exactly haunt me, instead, it inspired me to haunt. The Bell Jar will forever haunt me. Same with Catcher in the Rye because although so many characters have been compared to Holden, none will ever match his unique voice.