Katrin Gibb on Setting Reasonable Goals

Katrin Gibb on Setting Reasonable Goals

An interview with Katrin Gibb, from The Write Stuff series:

Katrin Gibb received an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She has work published in or forthcoming in Confrontation, Hobart, Water~Stone Review, and The Bookends Review among other places. One of her stories was selected as a finalist for the Neil Shephard Prize (2015) by Molly Antopol. She is a rotating editor at The Forge Literary Magazine and is currently working on a collection of short stories as well as something longer.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I tell them that I’m the Head of Administration and Accounting for an outdoor and travel product manufacturer. Then, I add that I’m also a writer.

For me, freedom comes with having my day job be my profession. I love what I do for a living, and it prevents me from feeling anxious or unhappy when writing isn’t going well or when I remember how difficult it is to get published. I get something out of writing that nothing else can give me—writing is part of who I am—but I’m also lucky enough to have another profession that pays the bills and fulfills me in other ways. This works for me—both for how I live my day-to-day and how I can view my writing and art.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

My biggest struggle is having enough time to write. I think this is a common problem. I’ve mostly come to terms with it though. Some months there is enough time. Other months, there’s not. I try not to beat myself up over it, because writing is only one part of my life, only one part of who I am, and sacrificing the other parts to write more wouldn’t fulfill me.

I must spend time with family and friends. I must work. I must go on walks with my husband and travel and go grocery shopping and listen to records without feeling guilty for not writing. I wouldn’t enjoy any of those things if I were constantly wishing I was writing more.

Then, other days or weeks or months, I will put those things aside because a story is all I can think about and what will bring me joy is working on it constantly and without hesitation. What works for me is not focusing too much on the time (although sometimes I still do), because sometimes beautiful words come out all at once and in such a short amount of time and sometimes they don’t.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

The short answer: Learn about craft. Read all the time. Write and wait and re-write and so on. Submit with abandon.

Learn about craft.

I’ve read books on the craft of writing, taken classes on it, and practice endlessly at the techniques I struggle with most. My understanding of craft taught me how to read my stories with a critical eye—to see if I’m actually accomplishing what needs to be accomplished. I’m certain I would have never published a single story if I didn’t devote time to craft. I think of myself as a creative person, but craft skills I needed to learn and will always keep learning.

Read all the time.

I’m constantly learning more about craft and what I want to write by reading. I read all the time, which wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I would have been embarrassed to admit how little I read. Now, I’ve found a system that works for me, and I’m always reading. My method is two parts—I stop reading if I’m not “into it.” That doesn’t mean I won’t read that book or story. It just means that I’m not going to read it right now. I also read several books at a time. Whatever is peaking my interest gets read. This means I’m constantly engaging with texts that move me, and I’m not getting bogged down with something I’m just not feeling.

Write and wait and rewrite and so on.

I wouldn’t be published and my writing wouldn’t be improving if I wasn’t writing, so this is a must. I must also wait, or give the story time in a figurative drawer, to be able to read my own work with a critical eye. Sometimes I can gain distance in just a few days, sometimes it takes a few years, but time away from work is a necessary part of my process. Then there’s rewriting, getting feedback, rewriting, figuring out if feedback is good for the story, and rewriting, and between all of that, often more waiting. Stories never come out the same way—the same number of drafts, the same time for my critical eye to be sharp again—but I always keep writing.

Submit with abandon.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t research literary magazines and contests for the “right fit.” What it means is that I always send to ten to twenty-five magazines at a time. I research them for a good fit. I look at awards their stories have won, the writers they’ve published, and I keep a list of magazines that send me tiered rejections so I know if a magazine might want to publish something else of mine in the future.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I set reasonable goals for myself. I accomplish these goals, and then I set bigger goals. I wanted to complete an MFA program and learn about craft. I wanted to publish my first story. I wanted to publish a creative nonfiction piece. I wanted to publish more stories that are part of my collection. I’m now at a stage where I’m setting bigger goals, but still, one at a time. This is how I get things done and how I can stay motivated. I’m successful in that I’ve accomplished my past goals. I’m unsuccessful in that I’m always working on the next one.

What are you working on right now?

I’m in the process of finishing a short story collection—about half of the stories are finished (a few of those published) and the others are in various stages of revision. The collection is currently titled Conventions. It’s comprised of stories that explore a variety of genres. The stories take the shapes of fairy tales, satires, gothic mysteries, coming-of-age narratives, neo-western thrillers, love stories, and often combine elements of more than one genre in one piece. While the stories push the boundaries of these genres, they also speak to the conventions and contradictions implicit in desire and love.

I’m also submitting with abandon and in the brainstorming phase for a novel I’d like to begin in 2017.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

I don’t know if this is the absolute strangest thing, but when my husband and I lived in the Inner Sunset, we had an unobstructed view of Mount Sutro. Once a year, for about a week, a herd of goats would be let loose to eat the vegetation. Then they’d disappear. It became a tradition to wait for the goats each year and then sit in our backyard in the mornings with a cup of coffee or in the evenings with a glass of wine watching them graze and listening to them bleat. The sudden appearance and disappearance of them was part of the strangeness and allure. One day they were there, and then the next day, they’d be gone.

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