Summer Writing Retreat Instructor Q&A: Charlotte Gullick

“We have to honor each draft in the sense that the work we have already written has led us to the moment of editing out a character or a scene. All of it counts even if we cut it.”

-Charlotte Gullick

Charlotte Gullick is a novelist, essayist, editor, educator and Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. A first-generation college graduate, she received her AA with High Honors from Santa Rosa Junior College, a BA with Honors in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz, an MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Charlotte’s first novel, By Way of Water, was chosen by Jayne Anne Phillips as the Grand Prize winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program, and a special author’s edition was reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project in November of 2013. Charlotte’s other awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, Faculty of Year from College of the Redwoods as well as the Evergreen State College 2012 Teacher Excellence Award.

Charlotte is teaching a class during the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat called “The Confident Revision: A Roadmap for the Editing Process.” Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Charlote Gullick bwScribe: When did you know you were a writer? Was there a defining moment in your personal history? 

Charlotte Gullick: I knew I was a writer when I had a creative writing assignment returned to me in a community college class and written across the top was “You’re a real writer. Stick with this.” This comment coincided with the death of my grandfather by a drunk driver. He was a piano player in the old timey-sense; they were folks from Arkansas who carried music with them wherever they went, and when they settled in California, getting a piano was a top-priority. His love of music, of honky-tonk and of cowboy songs, informed my appreciation for the ways songs could tell stories and of how stories could be songs, bringing people together. He believed in me absolutely, and I think my writing has grown out of the moment of being identified as a possible writer and wanting to evoke something of my grandfather’s lively, creative presence on the page.

Scribe: You’re teaching a class on revision during the Summer Writing Retreat. What is a common misconception about the revision stage? 

CG: I think a common misconception is that we can revise everything in a single pass; that a “real” writer can hold all the elements of craft in his/her mind’s eye and look at the material for improvement with all those elements at once. I believe that this notion actually slows us down and makes us revise superficially. If we instead revise each draft with a single focus on one element of craft (i.e. dialogue or sensory detail or tension), the improvements we make will be more meaningful and take less time and we will feel more empowered to make those revisions.

Scribe: Making cuts to a draft is a difficult task. How do you approach it?

CG: We have to honor each draft in the sense that the work we have already written has led us to the moment of editing out a character or a scene. All of it counts even if we cut it. When it comes to big sections, say 3-4 paragraphs or sometimes a whole chapter, I do save them in another file, something like “One-Man Reservation Cuts” – so I can return to it if needed. I often don’t come back to this material for the particular piece I’ve cut it from (I might use it for something else, though). But, creating the file of the edited out material softens the blow of taking it out, I think. This approach helps me map out the revision, so I can see what I have and what I need.

Scribe: When you revise, do you get feedback from peers or do you rely solely on your own instincts and knowledge?

CG: I definitely get feedback from peers. I’m someone who is impatient with process and often too close to my material to see what’s missing and what’s not working. For example, in my second novel, which I’ve written eight times, I have a character who is deeply important to ME. My husband, who is also a writer, has kindly pointed out, after I asked him if I can keep this character, that I need to make this character as important to the readers as he is to me. This is excellent feedback – it helps me see and understand what I couldn’t otherwise. I would add, though, that I am judicious about which folks I share my work with. The wrong person at the wrong time can deflate momentum and faith.

Scribe: You’re a professor at Austin Community College. What’s a valuable piece of advice that you’ve learned from teaching/participating in writing classes over the years?

CG: That community matters. People with significant differences in experience, ability, and ambition enter the community college classroom, and most of us are there because we want to cultivate discipline and community; we want to know we’re not alone in our dreams and our struggles.

— Thanks, Charlotte!

Click here to register for Charlotte’s class.

Click here for more information on the Summer Writing Retreat.

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