Kathy Fish and I are excited to work with Jeff Burd this summer at our High Altitude Inspiration retreat in Grand Lake, Colorado. Jeff and I chatted with me about teaching, hybrids, and baseball as a metaphor for writing.
Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?
Jeff Burd: I’m fortunate enough to be a high school teacher, and I’ve taught a creative writing class for the past 13 years. I am many times writing along with my students, and sometimes use their insights in the editing process. I am frequently surprised by what they come up with. So that helps me find time somewhat consistently. Otherwise, I keep a writing date for myself at a certain time and in a certain place throughout the summer. Beyond that, it’s catch as catch can.
Nancy: I can relate–sometimes being a teacher is the best way to also be a writer! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?
Jeff: I’d start with my relationship with poetry. I’ve spent countless hours over the last fifteen years studying poetry, writing poems, transcribing poems, none of which is to say that I’m a particularly good poet (or even average). But the skills I’ve developed feed directly into my writing of flash. The two genres share a lot of common ground, and I’ve found a lot of joy in working in a hybrid form. I’ve been working lately on transforming old poems into prose poems and microfictions.
Nancy: Yes, there is a lot of crossover, which is so exciting! What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Jeff: Two pieces, actually: 1. Ray Bradbury said to have fun writing your first draft, because drafts 2-11 are going to be hell; and 2. Jack Ridl says you have to love practice if you’re a writer, the same way a basketball player loves to be in the gym or merely shooting baskets in the driveway. Everything you write is but practice anyhow, so if you’re not loving it, why do it?
Nancy: I especially love that quote by Bradbury–perfect. What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? Where can we read it (if it’s available)?
Jeff: I wouldn’t say it’s the one I’m most proud of, but this microfiction is one that is probably most significant since it opened a door for me and got the ball rolling with some very nice success I’ve experienced in the last two years. I purposely wrote one of the most obnoxious things I could think of and was going to chalk it up to fun and practice when the final image came to me in yoga class the morning after I had written the first draft. I sent it off to a handful of publications on a whim, thinking “fuck it if they don’t like it, I had fun with it!” It was picked up for publication within 12 hours. You can find it here:
Nancy: Congratulations! Now since I know you are a baseball fan, react to this quote by Babe Ruth as it pertains to your writing : “Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!”
Jeff: Krikey, I’ve “struck out” 95% of the time with my writing! If I was in fear of that, I could never write. But there are reasons to play the game other than publication. My goal has always been to be the best writer I can be, so even the strike outs get me closer to that goal I can never really reach.
Nancy: Have you ever been to Grand Lake before? What are you most looking forward to?
Jeff: I haven’t been to Colorado for a long time, so I look forward to returning and spending some time there and enjoying the beauties of nature. I will be stand-up paddle boarding the titular lake at Grand Lake a few times, and probably head to Red Rocks for a concert one night. I hope I find the time to write!
Nancy: Oh there will be time to write, I promise! Last thing: Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Jeff: I won The New Yorker cartoon caption contest #377, waaaaaay back in 2013.
Nancy: Ha! Thanks so much for chatting with me, Jeff! We are looking forward to retreating with you in Colorado this summer!
Jeff Burd is a graduate of the Northwestern University writing program. His publications include The Baseball Research Journal, Imitation Fruit, BULL: Men’s Fiction, KYSO: Flash, Mount Hope, Soliloquies Anthology, Third Wednesday, and Dislocate. He was judged a winner of the First Memorial George Dila Flash Fiction Contest, and his nonfiction writing A Familiar Problem, a Familiar Face was recognized by Mensa as Best Unpublished Novel. Mr. Burd lives in Gurnee, IL, where he spends his time exercising, reading, writing, working in the kitchen, cheering for the Chicago Cubs, and watching Tottenham Hotspur. He works as a Reading Specialist at Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, IL.