Behind the Words: Chels Knorr

Posted by on Aug 1, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

CK3Chels Knorr is an editor, a writer, a student, and a soon-to-be MFA graduate. She came to Spry in our third issue with her lovely creative nonfiction essay, “Navigating the Margin,” a piece that dealt with big themes like figuring out roles in a new marriage and finding–and giving away a pet–all in the same day. If you haven’t read it yet, head over to read it now and then come back here! She prefers writing short creative nonfiction, but don’t let the length fool you. Her essays are lively and full of emotions. 

 

Erin Ollila: Navigating the Margin” is a very short essay. Coming in at just over 1,000 words, it could almost even be considered as flash. Do you usually write brief literature or are was this a new experience?

Chels Knorr: The longest piece I’ve ever written was 3,200 words. I love the experience of pruning down a story, sentence by sentence, in order to really find the meat of the words, to make every word tell. Brevity forces me to find word choices that sing and verbs strong enough to stand up on their own.

 

So much happens in this piece. We learn about a found dog and her trip to the pound, but we also see the inner workings of a new marriage. How did this piece begin? Did it start with the dog or the new marriage?

Chronologically, the new marriage came first. I had so many conflicting emotions about being married. I loved it and hated it, welcomed it and feared it. It was something at which I was both terrible and great. But it wasn’t until the “puppy” that I was able to articulate all these clashing ideas. When Tyler offered to stay up with the dog so that I wouldn’t’ have to make a decision about the pound that night… that’s when the piece began. I already knew he was a good man but that moment helped me to better understand how deeply he cared about me.

You are about to graduate from a masters program from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. What are you must looking forward to after graduation? What are you most nervous about?

I am very excited to graduate, though even better than graduating with the degree is graduating with a book-length collection of essays. Even if it still needs work, it’s the first book I’ve ever written and I’m really proud of it. NILA is super small. My graduating class has nine people in it. I’m going to miss the community. I love the constant flow of ideas among peers. I’ve met some of my dearest friends during this MFA program.

I suppose I’m nervous about continuing to write. I’m motivated by deadlines; by the fact that, for the last three years, I have had to turn something in to other classmates and to professors. But now, the accountability and motivation is all on me. I have to make myself write.

 

Is there any specific advice you learned in your program that you would like to share with our readers?

Don’t fall in love with your own words. Find a writing community. Sometimes you have to sit down to write even when you’re not inspired; in fact, most the time you won’t be inspired until you start. Be true to your own voice but don’t ignore suggestions. Abandon your ego but be proud of the work you create.


You’re an editor as well as a writer. How do the two professions interact for you? 

I think to be a good editor you have to be a writer first. There are so many mechanics in play when editing. As an editor, I’m not necessarily working within the same style/genre/topic I would write, but I am pruning stories on a micro level and shaping a magazine on a macro level. I feel like writing and editing skills are interchangeable. This doesn’t mean I edit my own writing though ;-).

 

What is your writing process like? Do you play with daily word counts or are you a binge writer?

My most creative time is from 2-4 in the afternoon. I’m pretty disciplined but sometimes I just don’t feel like writing and I think that’s OK. I don’t do word counts. I just write a story, and when it’s done, it’s done. I don’t have a “writing space.” I like noise around me, whether it’s people in a coffee shop or hip-hop music through my headphones. I’m very tactile, so as much as I hate to admit it, I print out a lot. I cut up essays with scissors to rearrange them. I tape stuff on the walls. I hate red pen.

 

Are you working on anything you’d like to share with the world?

I just finished my thesis. The collection is called How We Belong—an exploration into connection and community. It tells the story of how humans are inextricably bound to one another. It investigates the ambivalent nature of relationships and community, our desperate need to connect and the messy ways we wreck what we build. This essay—Navigating the Margin—is the first essay in the collection.

 

Tell me about some of your favorite writers.

Joan Didion, Cheryl Strayed (pre-Wild), Anna Quindlen, Brian Doyle, Jhumpa Lahiri, Katie Roiphe, Dinty Moore, Gabriel Garcia Marquez… you’re talking to a total word nerd here, I could go on and on. I enjoy writers who are brief, write with intention and assume their readers to be intelligent enough to fill in the gaps.

 

Erin Ollila is an emotional archeologist who graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Her writing has been published in (em): A Review of Text and Image, Revolution House, Lunch Ticket, Paper Tape, Shoreline Literary Arts Magazine, The Fall River Spirit, and RedFez. She is the co-founder and editor of Spry Literary Journal. Her blog, Reinventing Erin, is her outlet for ruminating on the minutiae of everyday life.

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