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Introducing Mallory Taylor: Writer & Editor

An interview with Mallory Taylor, guest judge for the inaugural “Love & Liberation Daily” writing contest

Hello to my fabulous Medium friends! Since I am opening up the contest to Medium writers as well (see my pinned) I figure I should also post about our previous winners, guest judges, and so on! Be sure to read below to learn more about Contest #1 & what you can look forward to in Contest #2! Happy writing!! =)

Hi friends!

Exciting update for the contest: my dear friend (and former prom date!) Mallory Taylor has kindly agreed to help me co-judge the love & liberation daily writing contest.

Mallory is a multi-disciplinary writer from Atlanta, Georgia, with years of writing and editing experience, like her time working as the fiction editor for the literary journal, Hobart Pulp.

She’s a lifelong friend and someone I deeply respect. I trust her judgment. I’m excited she’s agreed to join us and more excited for you to get to know Mallory and her work.

Below is an interview with Mallory, where you can get to know a bit more about her, her writing, and her experience as an editor.

And just a reminder, all submissions are due December 31st at 11:59 PM. See the contest announcement for more info below:

Announcement: Inaugural ‘Love & Liberation Daily’ Writing Contest

Introducing Mallory Taylor: Writer & Editor

Photo Credit: Emma Brand

Alex: Hi, Mallory! Welcome to LLD. Can you introduce yourself to our audience and tell us a bit more about yourself?

Mallory: Hi, Alex! Thanks again for inviting me to co-judge this writing contest. It’s a great idea, and reflective of something I’ve always loved about you, which is how creatively and organically you consider ways to provide opportunities to others. You’re doing that in a bigger way for your audience through this contest, but also for me, by inviting me to be a part of it!

It’s always hard to answer these open “tell us about yourself” types of questions. I’m immediately back in the third row of some classroom on the first day of school, not listening to anyone else’s answer, and mentally rehearsing my own under my breath in a panic until I’m forced to address the room. Hi! I’m Mallory and I have anxiety! Can ya tell?

Alex: Who are some of your literary influences, poets, essayists, and authors you love?

Mallory: I’m going to read this back and think, oh my god how could I forget so many of my favorites, but, off the cuff, I’d cite my literary influences as Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, Mary Karr, Patti Smith, Sheila Heti, and Franz Wright. I’m a classics nerd, so the cannon means a lot to me, especially my beloved Russian lit. I actually insisted that my husband read The Brothers Karamazov before proposing to me.

Other lifelong favorites and new sources of inspiration that come to mind: are James Baldwin, Kevin Maloney, Rachel Cusk, Lisa Taddeo, LM Montgomery, Casey Wilson, John Steinbeck, Leslie Jameson, Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, Jim Harrison, and Czeslaw Milosz.

Alex: Reflecting on your time as the editor of Hobart Pulp, what inspired you to step into that role, and how has that experience influenced your writing style or approach?

Mallory: I started with Hobart as an editorial intern. I had recently graduated from college, had yet to turn twenty-one, and had no idea what to do with myself or my English degree. In a series of strange choices, I moved from a commune in Canada to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Upon arriving, I connected with the founding editor, Aaron Burch, through the independent bookstore in town.

Aaron helped me learn to trust my intuition and believed that I had an intuitive sense of what made a piece work, probably from my years of obsessive reading. After working on several small editing projects with Hobart, and managing their social media accounts, Aaron asked me to fill in as a guest editor. It was invigorating to peek inside other writers’ processes and empowering to discover and elevate new voices.

After a few successful runs as a guest editor, Aaron asked if I’d like to take the role on more permanently. I was inspired by his confidence and belief in me, and by that time, I felt I understood Hobart’s voice and audience, so the choice to take on the role felt natural. I don’t know that that experience has influenced my writing style in tangible ways, but I do think the exposure to Hobart’s irreverence and bent toward the “weird” helped me open up as a writer and see the benefits of taking myself and my work less seriously.

Alex: Could you describe a typical day during your tenure at Hobart Pulp?

Mallory: A typical day as the fiction editor meant reading through the slush. For hours. If I wasn’t wading through submissions, I was working on edits with a writer whose piece I had decided to publish or formatting and scheduling the upcoming month’s online content.

Alex: Is there a specific piece of writing you worked on or encountered while editing that left a lasting impact on you? What made it resonate with you?

Mallory: I still think of a piece by Andy Myers that I worked on in 2018 called “The Machine Sleeps in the Corner, Dreaming.” It’s mysterious and troubling. The writing is sparse, yet highly evocative, and when I read the story, even now, I am immersed in a world of deep blues and kelp greens and glowing screens in dark rooms. The piece has much of what I looked for while at Hobart: an unsettling and relevant take on our relationship to technology and one another, powerful imagery, and an inventive, original voice.

Alex: How do you find balance between your personal writing endeavors and the lessons learned from your editing experience? Are there any particular techniques or approaches you’ve adopted?

Mallory: My time as an editor showed me the importance of collaboration. Writing, by nature, is a solitary task, but editing is not. I’ve grown to recognize the value of reaching out to other trusted thinkers and writers for feedback.

I’ve also grown less precious about my work, which has been a boon to my creativity. Rather than attempting to edit myself as I go, I allow myself to write, unfettered, and return to the work with an editorial gaze once the writing is done. I think of writing almost like a math equation now, in which there are sequential steps to reach a final sum. Editing is one of those steps, but by trying to bring it into the creative process at the jump, you can often squelch your idea. I learned to write, then edit, rather than edit while still attempting to get a draft on the page.

Alex: As an editor, you’ve guided many writers. What common challenges have you noticed writers facing, and what advice do you often give them?

Mallory: As writers, we often grow attached to certain lines or ideas in our work, even when those aren’t helping us tell the story at hand. This attachment was a challenge that came up often and is why trust and communication are so important to an effective relationship between the writer and editor. I often advise writers to maintain a document for their favorite sentences or ideas that don’t make the cut for any single piece. Not all of your zingers have to make it into one story!

Keeping those on hand can lessen the blow of not including them in a certain piece, and ensures that you don’t lose what is likely a great idea or a great line. Just because it doesn’t make the cut doesn’t mean it has to get thrown out altogether. Occasionally, a story needs greater detail or development, but more frequently, I advise writers to pare down. Like sculpting, editing is an act of chiseling. The story emerges more clearly, like a face from stone, the more excess that is removed around it.

Alex: What key elements do you believe make a manuscript or a piece of writing truly exceptional?

Mallory: I find it challenging to articulate what makes a piece of writing truly exceptional due to the ineffable nature of art, but I do think a few things are essential: a strong voice, thoughtful and intentional structure, and vulnerability.

Alex: What’s one piece of wisdom or a writing tip you’d like to pass on to aspiring writers based on your own experiences?

Mallory: Your first draft will be hot garbage. Embrace that as a necessary part of the creative task. Editing is an essential aspect of good writing, but don’t let it run you. The more you can let go of perfectionism and approach your writing with a sense of play, especially in the developmental stages of a piece, the better.

Alex: How do you approach writer’s block or creative challenges, and what strategies have you found most effective?

Mallory: For many years, I was perpetuating my own writer’s block by critiquing my work too quickly. Rather than writing with a sense of freedom and play, I edited my work fiercely as I wrote. I touched on this earlier, and it’s been huge for me.

When I am working on a new piece, I now treat that process as sacred. I focus only on the writing of the story, not on the necessary edits. The first draft sucks, but you can’t do anything else until you’ve written the shitty first draft. So I start there and trust the rest will follow.

Honestly, I often write my first and second drafts stoned, because it helps me get out of my head and be less concerned with perfection. Just call me the hippie Hemingway.

I’ve also found two other things to be helpful when struggling with writer’s block. The first is consistency. I set a writing goal every day that is highly manageable (usually I cap it at one hour a day) and I show up. Keeping the promise to myself, even if the words that wind up on the page are total drivel, provides me with a sense of accomplishment, and keeps me from avoiding writing out of fear of facing creative blocks.

Creativity is born from quiet and boredom. When I’m feeling creatively zapped, that is often an indication that I’m consuming too much content from other creatives or from the media, that I’m overstimulated or stressed out, or that I’m not making space for stillness in my life. The more I slow down, spend time in nature, and cultivate downtime, the more my creative life flourishes.

Alex: Can you share an experience where a piece of writing profoundly changed or challenged your perspective?

Mallory: Last year, I read Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers, An Essay on Love and Cruelty. I’ve spent the better part of my life identifying as a feminist, but this book challenged me to take that identity to a deeper place with a greater scope. I held many culturally ingrained beliefs about female sexuality and motherhood, as well as a mother’s political role, that I was forced to unpack as a result of reading Rose’s work.

Alex: Thank you so much for being with us, Mallory. We’re so excited to welcome you to the love & liberation daily family.

If you’d like to read more of Mallory’s work, be sure to subscribe to her newsletter This Could Be Embarrassing. You can also keep up with Mallory via Instagram.

Photo Credit: Virginia Reese

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