Leigh Stein

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Leigh Stein is the author of the novel The Fallback Plan (Melville House, 2012), which made the “highbrow brilliant” quadrant of New York’s “Approval Matrix,” as well as a collection of poetry, Dispatch From the Future (Melville House, 2012), selected for Publishers Weekly’s Best Summer Books of 2012 list, in addition to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club. Her memoir, Land of Enchantment, is forthcoming in August as Plume's first-ever hardcover original.

Stein's nonfiction has appeared in Allure, BuzzFeed, Gawker, the Hairpin, the New York Times, and Slate, among others. Formerly an editorial staff member at the New Yorker, she currently lives outside New York City and is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Out of the Binders, which advances the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers through conferences called BinderCon. For her advocacy work, she has been called a “leading feminist” by the Washington Post, and honored as a “woman of influence” by New York Business Journal.

Her website is leighstein.tumblr.com

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Welcome to our live chat with

Welcome to our live chat with poet, novelist, and memoirist Leigh Stein! As a reminder, you must be registered/logged in to the site to participate. It's free, so take a moment to do so if you haven't already. If you have questions or comments for Leigh, please post them here. You might have to refresh the page every now and then before comments load. Thanks for joining the conversation! 

Hi Leigh! I certainly related

Hi Leigh! I certainly related to your essay. In your experience, have you found hard deadlines to be the best tool for ultimately pulling yourself out of a self-doubt-induced paralysis, or can you offer other tips for things that help motivate you to get down to work?

Rschuder, what a great

Rschuder, what a great question! Yes, absolutely. Deadlines are essential. I thought I'd finally achieved my dream life of working from home without the outside commitments of teaching or going into an office, but then I realized my new problem is that there are no boundaries on my time at all, unless I impose them upon myself... My other secret trick is the Pomodoro technique (named after a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato): set a timer for 25 minutes and work, and then take a 5 minute break. I do this all day, every day, no matter what the project I'm working on is. If you're procrastinating on something, you can usually trick yourself into working on it for "just" 25 minutes...and then you'll build momentum.

In the past, I've definitely

In the past, I've definitely taken on projects in which I felt I was in over my head... and that feeling never dissipated. When in the process does the flip finally switch in your head? When do you finally realize: holy hell, I've got this?

Steph, I am always taking on

Steph, I am always taking on projects that are over my head! This seems to be my daredevil pattern in working. I think my ego says, "How hard could it be?" and then my anxiety says, "WTF HAVE YOU DONE TO YOURSELF." I really rely on my community to give me honest feedback. I have trusted readers, friends, women in my writing workshop, who read and comment on my drafts. You just have to get out of your head sometimes, so you can hear 1) "This isn't terrible, keep going, we love you!", and 2) where your blindspots are.

I've been trying to pitch or

I've been trying to pitch or write articles that feel out of my comfort zone, but I'm embarrassed that they might make me look even more like an imposter. I need to stop worrying about feeling like a failure, but that's hard.

Leigh, can you talk about

Leigh, can you talk about this more? " I really rely on my community to give me honest feedback. I have trusted readers, friends, women in my writing workshop, who read and comment on my drafts." I need ot develop a group of readers I trust, but I'm not sure where to start.

Kimberley, that's another

Kimberley, that's another great question...I've had embarrassing rejections when I've tried to pitch something that was a stretch for me as a writer. I don't think it should stop you from daring to go outside your comfort zone! One editor I heard recently gets something like 50 pitches a day, and she has to be ruthless in what she can take. So I think just play the numbers game: keep pitching, keep trying, and don't take the rejections as a reflection of your value as a writer. Just keep moving. True story: I pitched my essay idea to my editor at P&W and then was something like 4 months late completing a draft...I felt so embarrassed I almost didn't email her the draft. I kept thinking "I'm such an idiot, why did I wait this long, she'll never take me seriously as a professional!!!!!" But then she accepted the essay.

Have you ever received a

Have you ever received a rejection letter that you took particularly personal? How did you overcome and prevail?

Yes, more on finding your

Yes, more on finding your writing community: I've found friends, readers, and writing workshops through internet communities, at writing workshops (Tin House, Key West), on Meetup.com, and on Craigslist. I would recommend taking a class or attending a conference. Or take stock of who you already know: if you know one other local writer, do they have 1 or 2 other writing friends? Can you all meet once a month? Or can you trade work on a regular basis with someone you're friendly with in an online community? Writing workshops are also great for accountability (knowing you have turn in 1 new story or essay each month).

jkashiwabara, rejections for

jkashiwabara, rejections for my forthcoming memoir nearly destroyed me. I spent 3 months basically just crying. One editor emailed the week before Christmas to say rejecting my book was the hardest decision she'd ever had to make as an editor. Many said they loved my writing and my story and they couldn't put my book down but...they weren't going to make an offer on it. That's really hard to hear. I do think the dating analogy works, even if it's become cliche. I went through the same thing for years with dating, wondering why I couldn't find anyone, even if my friends told me how great I was. But you really just need that ONE person, or ONE editor, to fall in love with you/your project.

And I'm so glad you did,

And I'm so glad you did, Leigh! From an editor's perspective: If we think an idea is a good one, we'll give it a chance -- even if it might seem like a departure from your previous work. Be confident in that pitch (and the work you put into the piece), and we'll listen. 

How do you tell the

How do you tell the difference between criticism you suspect you should ignore and criticism that is entirely valid?

Steph, I think first you must

Steph, I think first you must have a strong vision of what it is you're trying to do, especially if we're talking about a larger passion project here. I knew I was writing a memoir about my abusive ex-boyfriend and I wanted it to be more complex than "he was the bad guy, and I was his victim." Then, you have to have a sense of your own weaknesses and strengths as a writer. I know my weakness is reflection...I'd rather just write scenes, and I'm good at pacing, so I can keep you turning the pages, but my writing workshop kept asking me to slow down and reflect. This drove me nuts, but they were right. I had an especially bad editor once who kept changing my personal essay to make my ex even more cruel and abusive and I had to push back on as many changes as I possibly could. My piece lost all nuance. So when receiving criticism, for me it helps to ask myself "Are they helping me clarify my own vision for this project? Or are they trying to make this THEIR vision of my project?" Sometimes in workshop, someone will say, "Have you thought about..." and name some random idea. We aren't looking for random ideas when we're revising our work; we're looking for suggestions to strengthen and clarify what's already there.

While editing this piece, one

While editing this piece, one of the (many) things I kept coming back to was the issue of being more confident in one form and maybe less so in another. Now that you have a poetry collection and a novel, and a memoir coming out in August, do you still feel this discrepancy in your work? And do you feel it while making the work, or just when you're pitching it? 

What are some of the valuable

What are some of the valuable lessons you've learned from those projects that challenged you the most (aside from: Wow. I AM pretty awesome / capable)?

I do like the challenge of

I do like the challenge of learning a new genre, but I think I lose my strength in whatever I don't practice...I haven't written fiction in years. I tried starting a short story at the end of last year and became paralyzed with self-doubt. I definitely feel most comfortable with whatever I've most recently practiced (currently non-fiction). I guess what it comes down to is sometimes in life, it's the time to stretch yourself, learn new tricks, and take risks, and sometimes it's the right time to practice and develop what you already know. With promoting my book release this summer, I'll definitely be writing and pitching more non-fiction. After that? A novel-in-verse? :)

We can't wait to see what

We can't wait to see what comes next! Thanks, Leigh, for your insight and wisdom, and to everyone for the great questions today. If you haven't read Leigh's essay on imposter syndrome, you can check it out at the link above, or in the current print issue of Poets & Writers. You can also listen to a fantastic interview she did for our podcast, Ampersand: www.pw.org/ampersand. And don't forget to check out her forthcoming memoir, Land of Enchantment, which is coming out from Plume in August. Thanks again, Leigh! 

Lessons learned: you need

Lessons learned: you need good people you trust in your corner, whether these are readers or editors or your agent. Trust your gut if your gut says "this professional relationship isn't working/doesn't make me feel good." Multi-task on projects so you can take breaks and put things away. Every time I workshop something, my first reaction is "Everyone is wrong, they don't understand my genius!!!!!!!" And then time passes and I think, "Oh. They were right about everything." Some of the best advice I ever got was from my teacher Karen Karbo at Tin House who told us "submit work when you're in a secretarial mood, not a creative one." Find the habits that work for you in order to sustain your writing practice. I don't write every day, but when I do have something I'm working on, I know that I must do it first thing in the morning, before I check email or social media, if I'm going to do it at all. I'm not a binge writer who can write for 8 hours. I can get in maybe 2 or 4 hours a day, maximum. Consume work that feeds you, go back to your favorite books and essays to feed your process and trigger ideas when you're stuck or lost.