Taking Control of Your Stories: an Interview with Hillary Leftwich
by Writing Workshops Staff
4 weeks ago
We are delighted to introduce you to Hillary Leftwich, a highly accomplished author with an impressive body of work. With two books already published, including the critically acclaimed Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock and Aura, Hillary is an instructor who brings a wealth of creative experience to her teaching. Her latest work, featured in prestigious publications like The Sun, Santa Fe Writers Project, and The Rumpus, showcases her talent and dedication to the craft of writing. Hillary is also certified as a Trauma-informed, Survivor-Centered Advocate through the State of Colorado: Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Hillary’s upcoming 4-week Zoom class, Taking Control of Your Stories: A Ritual in Writing Resilience, is a unique opportunity for aspiring writers to explore the art of storytelling in unconventional and empowering ways.
This generative workshop will challenge participants to craft their narratives through the use of hermit crab essays, art collage, and braided essays, allowing them to create protective shells for their vulnerable writing.
The course promises to guide writers in distancing themselves from their subjects, breaking free from traditional writing forms, and embracing imperfection to bring out their authentic voices. With a carefully designed curriculum spanning four weeks, this class is a transformative journey that will equip writers with the tools and techniques needed to take control of their stories and write with resilience.
If you're looking to unlock your creative potential and experiment with different forms of expression, Hillary Leftwich's class is an opportunity you won't want to miss.
WW: Your new class offers a unique approach to writing resilience. What was the moment or experience that inspired you to create "Taking Control of Your Stories"?
HL: As a survivor of assault and DV, I found it hard at first to attempt writing about anything related to my past revolving around trauma. Trauma is such a brutal word. This shouldn’t stop us from writing about it because writing can be such a healing process. So, after years of trying different writing techniques gathered from a lot of homework, reading the work of other survivors, and studying writing from authors who have also taken control of their stories, I designed this workshop with the hope and confidence that it can help others heal and navigate their own stories.
WW: The hermit crab essay is a central element of your course. For those unfamiliar with the concept, could you explain what it is and why it's an effective tool for writing about vulnerable or challenging subjects?
HL: Don’t get me started on the hermit crab essay—I absolutely adore this form! Any opportunity to use it I’ll take it. The hermit crab form offers protection for the writer because you can use any structure you want as a blueprint for your work. It offers that buffer between the topic and you to write about what might be or what has been too difficult to construct in the past. Examples of this include using a recipe form to talk about your childhood or a pill bottle label to write about addiction. You can choose from many forms that work well within the hermit crab form. The best thing? Even though it might seem intimidating, anyone can successfully use this form. I promise.
WW: Week 2 and Week 4 of your course focus on braided essays and art collage essays, respectively. Can you discuss how these forms differ from traditional essays and how they empower writers to express themselves more freely?
HL: A great question! When discussing traditional essays, we usually mean the personal/narrative essay. The lyric essay forms, like the braided essay, are similar, but we’re working more with using poetic elements within the braided essay by “braiding” together two, three, or more “strands” or topics to build an essay based on those topics and elements. Think of Lidia Yuknavitch or Chelsea Biondolillo’s work. With collage art essay forms, it’s more of an artist-type essay where we use artwork and found objects to weave into an art piece that reads like a collage mixed with art. It sounds strange but it’s just another way we can blur genres and experiment. Writing and creating is serious business, but it should also be fun!
WW: Your course encourages writing from an "honest and imperfect position". How do you guide students to embrace their vulnerability in their writing while maintaining a sense of safety and control?
HL: The most important part is recognizing and validating the participant’s experiences and understanding that attending a workshop with strangers is very vulnerable and not everyone feels comfortable sharing. But if I can create a space where everyone feels empowered to write within their own space—even if they never share their words—that’s what I always aim for. Using lyric essay forms like the hermit crab and the braided essay structures creates a distance between self and form to allow the words to create what needs to be said, which also allows us to take control of our stories.
WW: How do you think practicing non-traditional forms like the hermit crab essay and art collage can impact a writer's overall style and approach to other writing forms?
HL: Even if someone isn’t comfortable or doesn’t feel they have fully understood the form, we should always learn new forms and ways of writing to take the bits and pieces we like and use those in more familiar forms. I promise that later, these forms we may not have felt comfortable with at first will come back to us like a boomerang, and that’s when we will begin working with them.
WW: Teaching a course on writing resilience and experimental forms must be a profound experience. How has the process of creating and leading this workshop influenced your own writing and creative process?
HL: I remember feeling lost and unsure of where to start or how to write about my own traumatic background and having a few rare moments of discovering writing techniques and writers who offered this writing life vest—I always knew if I had the opportunity to offer the same instruction to others I would do my best to design a workshop where I thought the safety of the participants and their writing would be held sacred. It’s my hope and goal that this workshop does just that.
WW: Finally, what advice would you give to writers who are just beginning to explore the more experimental and hybrid forms of writing that your class focuses on?
HL: Don’t be afraid to try new things and “fail.” You are never failing—writing is an act of resistance and within this resistance there is experimenting and deciding this works or this doesn’t work. There is no fail. No right or wrong. Simply by showing up and trying is what matters the most. And once you begin, you won’t want to quit. For those who show up for these types of workshops, they’re telling me, I want to try this, just point me in the right direction. That’s the first step.
You can learn more about Hillary's upcoming Taking Control of Your Stories: A Ritual in Writing Resilience 4-Week Zoom Class and enroll if you're interested. We would be honored to write with you this year! So, what are you waiting for?
Instructor Hillary Leftwich is the author of two books, Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (Agape Editions, 2023, new edition) and Aura (Future Tense Books and Blackstone Audio Publishing, 2022), with a third collection of experimental/hybrid forms TBA. She owns Alchemy Author Services and Writing Workshop and teaches creative writing at several universities and colleges along with Lighthouse Writers, a local nonprofit for adults and youth. She teaches Tarot and Tarot writing workshops focusing on strengthening divination abilities and writing. Her latest work can be found or forthcoming in The Sun, Santa Fe Writers Project, and The Rumpus.