Taylor Larsen is a graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program in fiction writing. Taylor has taught fiction writing at Columbia University and the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, as well as literature courses for Pace University. Taylor is an author at Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster for her novel, Stranger, Father, Beloved, which released in July of 2016. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Windmill: The Hofstra Journal of Literature & Art. Her essays have appeared in Bustle, Literary Hub, and Women Writers, Women’s Books. Originally from Alexandria, Virginia, Taylor currently resides with her husband in Brooklyn, NY.
What is most difficult about writing?
Beginnings and endings are hard. Beginnings are hard because you don’t have much to hang your hat on yet and you are going on faith that this story is worth telling and that it will all come together. Endings are hard because when I am writing the middle part, I don’t feel pressure at all, so the writing flows. At the end, there is a natural pressure to draw things to a close. I have found that pressure blocks things for me. I can go into my head at this point, and that is disastrous for writing. I always have to trick myself into seeing writing the final 20-30 pages as the same as writing the middle and try to remove that pressure so the correct ending will flow out of the writing process.
What is your philosophy of failure?
I was raised in a culture/community in which failure was extremely shameful. In the past few years, I have learned that failure is a part of having big goals and dreams. There is just no way to guarantee that you won’t fail if you take a risk. So, my philosophy of failure is that it is actually quite natural to fail or fall on your butt. The trick is viewing events as part of a long game. The long game transforms moments of “failure” into episodes or hurdles, and takes away the shame associated with short-term defeats.
Also, there are many ways to “fail,” not all of them obvious. A famous writer with five books out often has fans who only remark on one or two of his previous books. The other three are precious to the author, but if they were not “hits/bestsellers” people may only refer to the one that was and his career seems rooted in that one big book. This can make the author feel like a failure with the release of a new book. Writers are very tender-hearted so it takes a constant forward-looking and positive focus combined with a sense of detachment from the industry to remain level-headed and to avoid a constant state of fear and heartbreak. In a sense, to be alive is to live in a constant state of vulnerability and heartache, but we have to look at things from a bigger perspective; otherwise, life is too painful.
What is the biggest mistake you have made as a writer?
I would say it was probably being too humble and scared when I was starting out. I was so afraid of seeming cocky that I went to the other extreme. Writing becomes a business at a certain point, and it is important to be confident and personable when you present your work to people who would sell it to the world. It took me a long time to figure that out, and so I was on the sidelines for a while. I also gave a lot of energy to things other than writing for years, such as relationships, and I squandered my energy in a sense. This is energy that could have been used to write books. Now, nothing will stop me. I’ve learned my lesson and my number one focus is my books and my writing career.
What is the biggest mistake you have made as a person?
I think my biggest mistake as a person was to not trust other people and life. This viewpoint makes life incredibly painful and nightmarish. There are indeed people who should not be trusted, due to their behavior. But, many people I distrusted actually did have my best interests at heart. So much in this life is not personal, though we often feel things are personal. Especially if one is sensitive, one goes through life feeling like a pin cushion in a world full of pins. I feel this is a mistake—I actively work on being more of a “glass-half-full” kind of person because positivity attracts positivity and negativity repels. Still, I try to also “keep it real,” meaning I tell the truth about what I witness, which can include discussing the negative sides of life with a humorous edge to them. Humor helps lighten what can otherwise be a negative and overwhelming world. Life is supposed to be an adventure and when it simply feels like a battle, something crucial has been lost.
What is your best failure story?
I would say it was when, a couple years ago, a small press contacted me and said they wanted to publish Stranger, Father, Beloved. This was before I had an agent, so I was thrilled to have an offer of some kind. I wasn’t thrilled with the offer at all and I didn’t feel it really fit at that press, but I proceeded with it and got my blurbs in preparation for publication. The small press deal then just kind of vanished into thin air, as in the editor stopped returning my emails and seemed to be floating away. I could have seen this as a “failure” and become despondent, but I just became more determined to get this book published. I consulted with good writer friends, found my awesome agent and then sold my book to an enthusiastic editor at a bigger house. So what could have been seen as a failure became just a step in the process, as I bounced back and became singularly focused on making this dream a reality. I just couldn’t wait around and leave it in other people’s hands anymore—I had to make it happen for myself. And I did.