Gayle Brandeis is the author, most recently, of the essay collection Drawing Breath: Essays on Writing, the Body, and Loss (Overcup Press.) Earlier books include the memoir The Art of Misdiagnosis (Beacon Press), the novel in poems, Many Restless Concerns (Black Lawrence Press), shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson Award, the poetry collection The Selfless Bliss of the Body (Finishing Line Press), the craft book Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne) and the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize, Self Storage (Ballantine), Delta Girls (Ballantine), and My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt BYR), a state-wide read in Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in such places as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Rumpus, and has won numerous awards, including the Columbia Journal Nonfiction Award and the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Prize. She lives in Highland Park, IL and teaches in the low residency MFA in Creative Writing programs at Antioch University in Los Angeles and University of Nevada Reno at Lake Tahoe.
What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?
I’ve been writing since I was four years old, and it’s been a central part of my life ever since. I was a shy kid, but felt bold and brave and free when I wrote. I still feel that way now. Writing excites me because it helps me see the world freshly, whether I’m writing creative nonfiction or poetry about my own life, or letting my imagination run wild through fiction. Writing and reading both help me feel fully alive, help me feel more deeply interconnected with the human and beyond human world. And language itself is so exciting, so full of possibility—I love finding words that spark against one another and create unexpected heat.
What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn?
I never want to feel as if I fully know what I’m doing as a writer—there is always something new for me to learn, and there are always new ways for me to stretch myself. I think it helps to stay as open as we can—to keep our minds open, our hearts open, our senses open, so we can absorb inspiration and knowledge and the sensorium from all directions and then filter it through our unique perspective and find ways to get it on the page. It also helps to stay curious and humble and playful and ready for surprise, and to not take ourselves too seriously, even as we take our writing seriously. It also helps to read as much as we possibly can.
What makes a good writing mentor?
A good writing mentor meets each student where they are, and offers suggestions toward the goal of helping the student’s work become its fullest self. A good writing mentor will not impose their own aesthetic, but will help the student claim and develop their own aesthetic. A good writing mentor will ultimately help each student trust their own voice and will give the student tools and confidence to carry their unique vision forward.
What is your style of feedback?
I offer feedback on both a micro and macro level, using Track Changes to make notes in the text itself, looking at things from individual word choices to how sentences and paragraphs are working as units, noting places that are working beautifully (I offer a lot of encouragement!) as well as places where I see opportunities for more physicality or interiority, places that could use some trimming, etc. I ask questions along the way to help you clarify your intention for the work. Then at the end, I’ll give global notes about the bigger picture to let you know how the work is operating as a whole, and will often offer relevant reading suggestions for further enrichment, along with ideas for moving forward. My goal is for my notes to energize you and to excite you to get back to the page to make your work even better.