Previous Writer to Writer Mentees
Spring 2015 Session
Julia Laxer lives for the stories and writes in the afternoons from a rickety desk in Portland, Oregon. Her poems appear in So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art, Small Po[r]tions, and The Nervous Breakdown. Last year she published flash-fiction in Litro Magazine and a memoir piece in the Red Umbrella Project’s anthology Prose & Lore, and was awarded the Orlando Prize in Creative Nonfiction by the A Room of Her Own Foundation for her essay “Letters to My Sister in a Mental Hospital,” published in issue 17 of the Los Angeles Review.
Julia worked with the writer Elline Lipkin.
What were your goals for this program, and how did you communicate them to your mentor?
I value relationships based on writing and on learning from others, and I thrive in collaborative settings. I wanted to learn more about working in publishing and academia.
Being forthright is easy for me. I asked for advice and critiques about pieces and received thoughtful feedback. I am so grateful for all the time Elline Lipkin spent with my work.
Elline Lipkin has been a consistent, positive force in my creative life since we were introduced. Her ability to be candid really matched well with my openness. We became close, and now the goal is to continue this bond and to encourage each other as feminist writers.
How would you describe the matching process and how well matched you were with your mentor?
I feel really lucky; Elline Lipkin was a fantastic match for me. I was specific about what I was looking for. In my wish list, I named certain attributes of what I hoped for in a mentor. I wrote that I was interested in working with a feminist writer who was also a poet. I am thankful to Elline's dedication to my writing, and I am appreciative of our unique friendship.
Was there a specific time you felt that you and your mentor "clicked"?
Yes, actually, I do remember a moment. We were having a quick phone check-in conversation. I was about to catch a bus. I walked down my beautiful old street in Portland, chatting on my cell while I walked—listening to her explain what her writing life was like, what her challenges for the day were… In the passing streets: demolition, gentrification, art galleries, and painted houses. Roses. Butterfly bush. Waiting at the bus stop, as the green hazelnut tree shaded me in the cool shadow, I realized that all writers are like this: lives, words, lives. There is no true way to separate ourselves.
Listening to her, listening to me, we were just people who wrote. Our diversion, just like any diversion. Our passions, complex. But the words we wrote meant something; it meant something to us. And we were drawn to each other, to the meaning, like the words were written in the light of the fading evening. Like everything meant something, if we could just make sense of it all. Words, lives, words. And the city, in transition. Everyone's lives, connected.
What advice do you have for people entering the program next?
As you prepare to have a consistent and meaningful correspondence with a mentor who is emotionally invested in your development as a writer, adamantly focus on goals—in writing and in life. Writing is the quickest way to get down to the grit and to be honest with oneself. This is your time to get real. Do real work, with someone really listening, with support. Stay open to possibility while honoring your intuition and process. And don't be afraid to break the rules. Never be afraid to break the rules. Experiment.
What is something you learned from your mentor or this process?
It is okay to be overwhelmed by the act of writing; in fact, that can be perfectly normal. The emotions that are evoked by writing personal pieces are intense, and life is complicated. Sometimes, it is all a part of the process. And, in that process, there is tremendous space for growth.
I learned to have more faith in my writing. This is huge.
What is something that happened during the session that you did not expect?
I felt lucky to correspond with someone with such compassion. I could not believe how well matched we were.
In what ways did this experience differ from, say, taking a creative writing class or workshop?
The time commitment is still there, yet when it was on my own terms, the focus was solely my work and hers. It was like having a really great pen pal, who just happens to be a really gifted writer. She's been there for me, as a writer and as a friend.
How has this experience helped your writing or work process?
It definitely helped; anything to help me focus is good. My mentor, Elline Lipkin, is brilliantly captivating. She was emotionally present for me, which helped me in those times when I was doubting my writing and, consequently, myself.
Where will you and your mentor go from here, following the formal conclusion of the program?
We are still in correspondence. I plan to take a larger part in learning about her work, as well as becoming a reliable reader for her new pieces. We will continue to encourage each other from afar. She will help me choose essays and poems to include in my hybrid-memoir manuscript. We plan to meet up in LA next year for AWP. I am excited; I can't wait to meet Elline. It will be my first time at the conference and I love Los Angeles. It's a lot to look forward to. The future is always exciting.