Leslie Caton Frey Backchannels Editor

Meet Leslie

This is the part I’m not supposed to say in a grad school or writing job application because it’s too cliché: I’ve been writing stories since I graduated from holding a crayon in my fist. It started with spelling words telling twenty-five sentence tales and progressed to diaries, then contest-winning essays, then songs and poems that saved my teenage life. In my thirties I went back to school to shift careers from web design to social work and took every writing elective I could–I discovered I was good. I got small things published, I won bigger awards, and I thought for the first time, I am a writer.

With outside recognition I decided I could give writing a shot, that maybe I could be one of those rock-star novelists. I read things that changed me, like Chris Offutt and Mary Karr and even “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, stories that felt unapologetically real. Before this, writing was an escape from who I was; I felt like an alien, so different from everyone around me. Now I saw myself in what I read. Maybe I wasn’t so weird, after all–or if was, I wasn’t alone.

I transferred to the University of Iowa and got my English degree with Honors in the Creative Writing Track, made friends in the graduate Nonfiction program, and connected to inspiring, encouraging professors like the ones in community college that told me I could write. I read hundreds of books in those years, wrote hundreds of pages, talked and breathed and practiced craft for hundreds of hours. The Iowa Review picked me for their summer intern. More work was published. So of course, star bright, I applied to the nonfiction program.

And didn’t get in. I couldn’t hear arguments about small cohorts or not liking local first-time applicants. I heard not good enough. Some of my best friends were in the program and told me to try again. But I wasn’t in. That’s all I knew. And I quit writing.

Writer friends graduated and went on to struggle with publication or to release book after successful book with seemingly little rhyme or reason. I wrote only commissioned work and performed spoken word because it was temporary and loved as long I put my heart into it.

As my fragile ego healed my head got in a better place. While an academic creative writing environment gave me an opportunity to learn like nothing else could, I also got my head waaay up my ass about comparison, external validation, and an artificial sense of worth vs. scarcity.

There is enough space in this world for every person’s story. Every. Single. Word. What is writing for, really? How can we strip away what’s hurtful in this field and make it more about collaboration, acceptance, growth, and celebration of this powerful form of human connection and expression?

I still make websites and I may go back to school again to focus on narrative therapy to weave together the healing power of story and the drive to help people live a little better in their own skins. But no matter what, I know I have to write. And read. And connect with others who are willing to put a little of their souls out there for others to consume with unknown results.

As long as writing lights you up, as long as you feel what you do matters (even if it’s just to you), write. There is beauty in cadence and arc and craft, and we can help each other get better, joyfully and gratefully. I’m excited to work for this journal because it gives me a place to practice this. If there isn’t enough space in one issue for your work we’ll tell you why and what works and what we think (in our subjective, fallible opinions) needs strengthening. You can rework and resubmit; there is also space to respond to other works.

This is the other part I’m not supposed to say: there is no secret formula for who gets to “make it” as a writer and who doesn’t. Success doesn’t have to be about where you’re published or how often. Do you put pen to paper? Do ideas rattle around in your skull and beat their wings against your ribs until you write them out? Do you write? You are a writer. Write.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.