How Carrie Oeding Became a Writer

December 4, 2011 — 126 Comments

[A] mysterious poet visitor was sitting in an undergraduate workshop at the U of MN. Someone said he was a famous poet from China, and honestly I don’t remember what his name was. I wouldn’t have known who was famous then. Why was he there? He came up after class once and said, “You’re going to be a good poet one day.” It kind of shook me.

Carrie Oeding’s first book, Our List of Solutions, won the Lester M. Wolfson prize in 2010, selected by David Dodd Lee. The book was released in 2011 by 42 Miles Press, a new poetry series from Indiana University South Bend Press. Carrie’s work has appeared in such places as Colorado Review, Third Coast, Greensboro Review, Mid-American Review, Best New Poets 2005 and elsewhere. She is currently working on a second book of poems and a book of creative nonfiction essays. A native of Minnesota, Carrie has lived in Washington, Ohio, Texas and now resides in West  Virginia with her husband, poet Kent Shaw.

Visit Carrie’s website:

Read more by and about Carrie:

Book: Our List of Solutions
“I Have Been In More Uncomfortable Situations Than This” at Diagram
Audio at The Poet’s Corner
“Work Harder” at Verse Daily

How Carrie Oeding Became a Writer

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (er, or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Carrie for saying yes!

1.  Why did you want to become a writer?

I was really in my head as a kid. Books excited me, but they excite a lot of young people, so who knows. When I grew older, I knew I wanted to make art, and I was closest with language as an outlet. When I was a junior in high school, I started telling people I was going to major in creative writing at the University of Minnesota, and then I did.

I was born on a small Minnesota farm, a small working farm where my dad grows corn and soybeans and sometimes raised sheep. I never write poems about where I grew up. There’s no negative or traumatic reason for this. I have, however, one piece in Brevity: A Journal of Concise Creative Nonfiction that is about my relationship with growing up on a farm. I want to say “in isolation on a farm,” but I think of my husband laughing when I said we lived 5 miles from town, which was hardly isolation. But it might as well have been 50 miles, as I spent most of my life on the farm. And, anyway, the “town” was Luverne, MN–population: less than 5,000. My husband also likes to chuckle at the image of me stretched across my bed, literally waiting for something to happen, anything. People like to look back and find meaning after the fact about how they got here, some of this is true and some is storytelling. Storytelling is meaning-making, I understand, but I don’t always trust it. This distrust works well in essays as it creates a constant need for questioning and rethinking.

Louise Bourgeois Installation view, Tate Modern, London, 2007 Image © Nathan Strange/AP

2.  How did you go about becoming a writer?

In a pretty conventional way. B.A. in English with creative writing emphasis. Attending an MFA program immediately after at the age of 22. Ph.D. in creative writing right after that. But this doesn’t necessarily explain how I became a writer. I became a writer by writing. I remember almost all of my undergraduate creative writing teachers saying, “Just write, and things will happen,” and when I began to see it was true, I never doubted this. I still don’t. Even when I’m anxious about what’s next.

Was I too young to leave Minneapolis after undergrad and pursue an MFA at 22? Probably. But I was right to make the decision, and I immediately had a real writing life because if it. If I hadn’t left Minnesota to get an MFA at that time, I likely would be a very unhappy person today who doesn’t write. Maybe I wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t want to go back in time and find out.

I heard someone on NPR a number of years ago, a fiction writer, who said he taught himself how to write stories by retyping Grace Paley’s short stories. It was an “I had no idea what I was doing” confession, but I loved the idea of it. And Grace Paley should be retyped by all of us. I can’t remember who it was, but then I think he went on to somehow fall into some famous novelist’s lap who schooled him.

Joseph Cornell

 3. Who helped you along the way, and how?

This is another interesting question, because I again want to answer it in different ways. Some of the people who helped me in the beginning of my writing life were practically strangers whom I had brief encounters with. For instance, a mysterious poet visitor was sitting in an undergraduate workshop at the U of MN. Someone said he was a famous poet from China, and honestly I don’t remember what his name was. I wouldn’t have known who was famous then. Why was he there? He came up after class once and said, “You’re going to be a good poet one day.” It kind of shook me. It didn’t stay with me, though. I just remembered this recently.

Stevie Smith

The writers I read whom initially helped open up the idea of what writing could do—Stevie Smith, Amy Hempel, Mary Ruefle, Frank O’Hara, Barry Hannah, Larry Levis, Claire Bateman, Russell Edson, Lydia Davis. I feel incredibly unsatisfied stopping here, but I’m just making lists.

My editor, David Dodd Lee, for being such a smart reader of my first book (and of poems, period), seeing that it is doing something new, understanding its humor and seriousness, and publishing it. Publishing it in a gorgeous book that completely lives up to my in-print dreams!  Also, my husband, Kent Shaw, who is a poet, who has read more contemporary poetry than anyone I’ve met and sees the book in the same vein. His writing keeps me excited about poetry, which is funny because when we first started dating we didn’t read each other’s work. We are both very critical, and we secretly worried we wouldn’t like each other’s poems. Our writing was a huge surprise to each other. Then we got hitched.

Some who currently help me are the writers and artists who keep me excited about making things: Alice Notley, Eula Biss, Maggie Nelson, Mattea Harvey, Werner Herzog, Miranda July. I am absolutely on fire about artist Sarah Sze, but you should see the installations in person.

Something that has helped me from stopping writing after I completed my first book, is taking art classes during my two years in Houston. I saw a Martin Puryear show at the SFMOMA in 2009. I had finished my first book, and it was unpublished. I was alone and at god-awful MLA, and it was one of the best art experiences of my life. Something about walking closely around his sculptures made me feel like I was breathing for the first time in two years. I moved to Houston nine months later and took art classes at the Museum of Fine Art’s Glassell School. I remember the first night of just intro to drawing and how it felt electric to be sketching terribly in the humid Houston August. I think there were times I slept with my art supplies. It’s stupid, I hate these kinds of narratives, but I am going to own this one. Two years of classes weren’t enough, but having that kind of excitement about making anything recharged my writing.

4.  Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

Henry Darger

Joseph Cornell and Henry Darger were easy to get obsessed with. There is no line between their artistic and personal biographies. Going back to the writer who copied lines of Grace Paley, I like the idea of trying to figure things out on your own–having a hunch of what you want to do, and like Darger, finding ways on his own to get his collages “right” for him.

Also Ana Mendieta, I’m fascinated with, her performance pieces, during which uses her body in ways I’m usually very cynical about.

Louise Bourgeois is one of my favorite artists. Her wit, side view, darkness, and play are right up my alley. And she just works in so many mediums. Never stopped exploring.

I’d like to be around Marianne Moore. Have her as a neighbor, but I don’t want to read her biography.

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?
Write and read, and things will happen.

If you’re a poet, consider making something in addition to poetry. You need to be making something all of the time, whatever it is. Poems, collages, pancakes.

Be humble. Don’t romanticize being humble. Don’t be so easily impressed.

126 responses to How Carrie Oeding Became a Writer


    Congrasts on the culmination of all your hard work – and being Freshly Pressed!
    As an aspring writer, I’m inspired further by your tale of success.
    “Be humble. Don’t romanticize being humble. Don’t be so easily impressed.”
    But it’s all right to be impressed by you, right?


    Thoughtful post and a real help one, as i am new to this writing world. Anyone can take a lot, from this post. Thank you for such a beautiful post, it’s a motivating & inspiring one.


    Thanks for this fabulous post. I’m a writer-artist who appreciates how one art feeds another.


    “Be humble. Don’t romanticize being humble. Don’t be so easily impressed.”

    I am humbled but impressed as well… Congrats on being freshly pressed!


    You know what makes me a little crazy? That if I were ever asked, “Who helped you out along the way, and how?” I’d have to give props to my awful ex-husband…because he helped me find my voice (and my blog, 2.5 years later…). He really is one of the primary reasons I’m a successful freelance writer and blogger.

    Oh well — it all happens for a reason, right?

    Interesting questions in this interview. I love learning about how other writers came into their own…



    Thanks for your comments, everyone! Mikalee: you made me laugh out loud. Ramu and The Hook: I love that quote too. WordPress: Thanks for Freshly Pressing this! – Kelcey/Phd


    Wow! I love this. I’m an aspiring writer myself and it’s always great to know the steps that other writers took to get to their goals.


    Excellent interview and inspiring too!
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!


    Who out of great writers had PhD or any formal training in writing?


    I think you are amazing. I’m so inspired


    Always a pleasure to hear of writers’ journeys to success – the thought processes churning through their minds, the steps they took to achieve, how art will out…Congratulations, Mrs. Oeding, on your success!

    And as to this: “Be humble. Don’t romanticize being humble. Don’t be so easily impressed.” All too true. All too true.


    I like the advice: You need to be making something all the time. I’m going to follow it.


    This is a great and motivational article. I really enjoyed the ending for aspiring writers which is to just “read and write and things will happen.” Thanks for the post.


    Looking forward to reading about more writers and what inspires them.


    Happy that you made it freshly pressed, and it’s just as well otherwise I wouldnt have known about your site. I love the enthusiam for all things writing and definitely I will ‘follow’. I need to visit sites like this as it is a sort of Oprah Winfrey website version of what do you do when you have to follow the path or it is your natual calling etc. Great stuff!!


    Congratulations on your new book!!! I admire poets; I would like to write poems or songs, but I can only manage short stories or novels. I like your suggestion of always make something-especially pancakes (it’s my favorite food).

    Keep smiling,
    Yawatta Hosby


    Congrats on your success and on the fact that you did it. I’m a writer too, and when people ask me the same questions, I just say that it’s got to be what’s in one’s soul.

    Val 🙂


    It was definitely an inspiring interview…..Thanks a lot. It definitely was worth reading


    Congrats on being Fresly Pressed! I am an aspriring writer and came across this site for the first time today and it is soo helpful. I will be following here from now on 🙂


    i love your statement, “i became a writer by writing”. gives us all a little hope 🙂 writing for me is therapeutic…allows me to have an endless creative outlet in a life that might otherwise be bland. thanks for sharing! i love it, and look forward to reading more.


    Thank you for an informative and well-written post. The last three lines will stick with me forever.

    And congratulations on being chosen for Freshly Pressed!


    Always interesting to read about people’s journeys into atheir art.


    Write and things will happen… I love that you shared this in your interview. Whenever I try to control the writing process, nothing happens, but the minute I let go, I am taken down paths I never knew existed.

    Congratulations on all of your success and thanks again for sharing!


    The response to Question # 5 is brilliant. Great post. Thanks for sharing.


    As I read the stories, blogs and comments on wordpress I realize how very many good writers there are in this world. In a way it’s discouraging that the competition is so fierce, but in another way it is lovely that so many people want to be part of art.

    Good luck, writers out there!



    There are always interesting things to learn from others 🙂


    Good post, I like it, good luck for U as writer!


    All writers need inspiration, and seeing how others have ‘broken through’ gives heart. Thanks for your story.


    Great questions; as I read I pondered my answers to the questions. They will be asked of me at some point in the future. Of that I’m sure. Not because of innate talent or a tremendous work ethic. Nor because I’m adept at fragments. But because I e-mailed the post to my wife with explicit instructions.


    Great work. I am a new blogger and if you have any tips, or topics please stop by my blog and help me out.
    Thank you


    Write on! 🙂


    More than impressed. Great stuff! I am just a new blogger and tried to write as my tool of self expression. I find blogging more productive rather than talk foolishly with just anyone. You’ve written your thoughts clearly and informatively and i really liked it. Great stuff!


    If I may humbly ask … I do not claim or aspire to be a poet or a writer, can I afford to be impressed by a creative genius like you? 🙂 Being a software professional creativity is part of the job. Totally agree with you there, persistent action yields innovation. I will try to be creative next time I make pancakes.


    Love your blog! I have an mfa and am a poet (and new blogger). I’ve been thinking about working on a ph.d. in creative writing and am looking forward to reading more about your experiences.


    Wow so insightful. This is something I’ve been searching for. She’s one of those memorable people that will stick in my mind forever. If not her name, then most defiantly her words.


    Nice post. I feel your humble spirit in this. Best wishes in your writing endeavors.


    Well done. I can’t wait to read your book after reading this!


    Great interview, love the title of the book, it’s so intriguing! Btw congratulations too! Well done!


    I love hearing writer’s stories, thanks for sharing!


    This is so insightful. As an aspiring writer myself, though admittedly I am just getting started, to hear about someone else’s struggle to the top is kind of inspiring. Even though the rise was conventional and not expeditious in it’s nature, sitting at the top of the proverbial mountain is still a huge feat. Having a legitimate career as a writer is one of my ultimate goals. So I will most assuredly take with me “Keep writing and things will happen” and let my favorite pen write my future.



    Awesome post, very inspiring. I jsut started my blog a week ago and I have only posted one item, I am having such a difficult time just jumping right in but after reading this post I will do just that after all, I just have to write! Who would have thought starting a blog would feel so intimidating….Thanks for the inspiration and congrats on your accomplishments and ebing Freshly Pressed….


    Thank you so much for sharing Carrie Oeding’s lovely words with us. If she writes anything like she interviews, I’m going to have to check out her book.


    Working everyday, trying new things…just the ticket for living the creative life!


    Wow! This was really inspiring. I entered a graduate program at 22 as well, and graduated with an MA in English by the age of 24. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.


    Like you, my research colleague and I are interested in external performances of the body and the orchestration of images for the purpose of transfiguring the inner-lupus that is common to us all.

    To reflect on this with humility and grace is a rare gift. Thank you.


    As a woman who is always “inside her head” and standing at a cross-road trying to find direction for writing, I find this inspiring!

    I tell myself everyday that through blogging I will find rhythm, through silence I will find a way to complete some of the “starter stories” and if I ever find musical talent, I will write a song!

    May you continue to be blessed in the writing world and thank you for sharing!


    I like this story! As an aspiring writer myself, I especially loved hearing, “Just write, and things will happen.” I think about writing and do to much planning in my head at the expense of writing, so that definitely needs to change.

    It’s great you get inspired from so many people. Congrats on being freshly-pressed.

    By reading yours and others’ stories, I hope it’ll inspire me to right more as well:)


    You are right, Dr. Oeding. I am becoming a writer by writing.


    I have always been told that to become a good writer takes practice; it takes writing when you want to, writing when you don’t want to, and then writing some more! I think reading should be included in that tip as well because I know I write better after reading various genres.

    I’m glad to see your childhood dream came true and I know that with effort and patience my dreams can come true too! Congrats 🙂


    I really enjoyed reading this post and I look forward to reading subsequent posts. I love creative writing and I hope you will pass by my blog to read some very short stories in my Fiction category. Following…


    Your path was very interesting. It’s fun to see how writers have gotten through the maze. I’m sure glad I never listened to “write what you know.” How boring would that be? Terrific post.


    Love this because it titillates my inner writer to pieces, no lie. I’ve bookmarked this page so as to have an exact reference because I now have some books and additional artists to explore. An excellent review and I am coming back for more.


    “Write, read, and things will happen.” This advice was just what I needed today to push through writer’s block. I’ll definitely be bookmarking it as well since we all struggle to be inspired from time to time.


    great post! sounds uncannily like my own writer’s journey – BA english, then phd in creative writing.


    Awesome post! I think it’s really interesting to see how other writers have come to the conclusion that they should actually write. So many people have creative energy just bursting out of them and they have no idea what to do with it. (That was me) I made a lot of pancakes before I realized that what was needing to come out were words. Diaries, essays and a B.A. in English later…I’m still writing and it’s great. Keep up the good work. 🙂


    Great post. Definitely an interesting read.

    Here’s a site you might enjoy. Also enter for a free chance to win Mass Effect 3. Only at…


    Working everyday, trying new things…just the ticket for living the creative life!


    Well done. I can’t wait to read your book after reading this!


    Great work. I am a new blogger and if you have any tips, or topics please stop by my blog and help me out.
    Thank you


    I see myself to her, yeah, indeed!! Because when I was as young as 8 years old till now I indeed found cozy home with books. I mean I felt so much comfort whenever they’re with me! I love them more than a friend! they became my friends when in times I’m alone. And i can do play with words. Whenever we are ask to write an essay or reaction paper something like that, analysis regarding a certain text or some other paper works with required numbers of words, well I can indeed manage to create one!! I can’t believe I have skill in composing a poem….. and my classmates usually say that I am fond of using unfamiliar words which make my poem deep!! it’s just, bad to say I am not a good speller….. well, I don’t know why?? and I don’t want to know anything about it!!!


    nice stuff. Joseph Cornell, who lived on Utopia Drive (BLVD?) is infinitely fascinating (, and Stevie Smith as well, but when i see her image I can only remember that she developed alzheimer’s. All the sexiness from a mind that sharp just disappears. good luck.


    Thanks for this post! As an aspiring writer, I love to hear the stories of others in this field.


    great post, one that I wish to one day be able to replicate 🙂


    I love writing,can’t say I’m much good at it but I find this blog brilliant.


    love the final thought “Don’t be so easily impressed.” Words for anyone to live by!


    Nice and interesting interview and site. Good luck with everything!


    “Just write, and things will happen.” Both the simplest and most difficult writing advice. Great interview, lots of new poets/artists/writers to discover…


    This was a great interview and I found the responses very interesting. It is great to see such a young writer get great publicity and support from different sources! Write on!


    Wonderful interview! It helps to remind me it’s okay to pursue a B.F.A. in writing.


    My sister just gifted me Carrie Oeding’s book for my birthday – I’d never heard of her, but I fell in love within the first few poems. Thank you so much for sharing this! -Abi


    Oh – I just read your bio. My sister Leah is doing her MA in creative writing at South Bend now, which makes sense now why Carrie’s work has come up again.


    Nice and open – i really enjoyed reading your answers as i am getting back into creative work myself and appreciate the feeling behind your words.

    Thanks xx


    I like how open this is. I am just starting out my writing career. Check out my blog called in the life of a teen-year-old @


    Lovely… nice to have a writer speak with characteristic certainty,
    The future holds a lot for us…. I will keep on writing and expecting things to happen…


    I found this really inspirational as well – I’m an aspiring writer too and think it’s great you got freshly pressed! congrats on it all!


    Thanks so much to everyone who has commented and subscribed to the blog! It’s great to get your feedback and visit your blogs – so much good stuff out there! I’m honored to be Freshly Pressed and excited to keep interacting with all of you in the blog world.

    – phd in creative writing


    Extremely well written and very inspirational. Well done. Looking forward to more posts. 🙂

    Life's amazing journey December 8, 2011 at 3:55 am

    Love the inspiration from other people’s lives – well done!


    Fascinating insight and some great inspiration here. I like the final comments about making something in addition if you are a poet, I’ve come at it the other way round. I’m a photographer, who decided the images needed something else, then remembered that back in the day I enjoyed writing poetry.


    Cool…. this blog is cool!!! i like working, i mean, having connection with people who found writing a good stuff!!! for i know they could help me…… i am dreaming of publishing a book, anyway!! i attempted a hundred times to finish a certain story but… sad to say it’s quite hard to end up a story!!!


    Seriously, nothing really new in the interview. We’ve heard it many times: work, patience, work, work, work.
    Not so many people mentions a great dose of luck, which is necessary to actually get published!


    Really interesting interview with Carrie Oeding. It inspired me
    in my literary efforts
    Sebastian Isac


    As an aspiring professional writer, this is very encouraging. Thank you.


    I found this very helpful. I didn’t want to comment on it just because it was freshly pressed, but I only came back today to follow your blog and refer to it possibly in a post. (My blog is not popular at all, btw.) The helpful part was this poet saying 1) that she would’ve been a very unhappy person who didn’t write if she hadn’t gone to get a masters when she did, and 2) her saying her professors said to just write and magic will happen. I am that unhappy person so often and I think it’s because I don’t write. Also, I really think I felt more at ease at the computer lately accepting that I just have to write (even if it’s imperfect), and I do feel I can see some magic happening.


    I remember when I first started writing when I was around 8 or 9 years old and I started writing poetry, than poetry turned into music because I could listen to music all day long and I started to create my own lyrics. Then I started a journal, then it turned into many journals because I need a way to let out my emotions and feelings. Then I went from journals to this.


    I couldn’t have come across this post at a better time. I’m currently considering pursuing an MA in Creative Writing and have some nagging doubts. Your blog has put the fire under me again! I look forward to reading how other authors answer your questions. Thanks!


    Brilliantly interviewed, very inspiring for all creative types!


    Good questions & great answers. I liked reading about how taking art classes helped in writing. Thanks for sharing.


    I appreciate everyone’s comments.

    Malcolm, thanks for the pingback!

    Enlustered, thanks for coming back and commenting. Those two things you mentioned are a couple of my favorite parts of the interview – about writing/happiness, and about writing/magic. One example of magic for me is I started these interviews over the summer, and now, magically, one is Freshly Pressed!

    Anna, good luck thinking about M.A. options! Message me if I can answer any questions.


    It seems to ring true for most things…
    “99% practice, 1% Theory.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


    Something all poets should read! Thank you!


    Very inspiring… I especially liked the advice about always making something. I have felt that that helps, but never been conscious of it. Thank you


    Thanks for doing this informative interview!


    Terrific. What an inspiration you are. I shall forward this link to a poet friend who is just beginning to have her work published. Congratulations!!

    thegirlbehindthepen December 10, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Congratulations! You’re such a true writer! I love your post. I’m inspired by your story. I’m a Journalism student. Today I’m a writer. Everyone else is. We just have to earn some readers. And that’s one of my dreams. To have many readers and inspire them with my works. I hope I will be just like you someday– a successful writer 🙂


    Great post. It really resonated with me. Cheers.


    Great interview, really interesting. It’s always nice to get a view from a successful, published writer.


    Although it’s not easy being a writer, your post gives us writers/comic artist hope & inspiration to keep going. Thanks for your advice!


    Wow, now I really understand how hard is to be a writer (even a blogger), tthat makes me wanna think a little more about this subject…


    “Just write and things will happen”–so very true! Three years ago, someone told me this during a party that I had intended to skip. Figured meeting this person was a sign for me to get back into writing. Now I’m doing my thesis! Thank you for this post! 🙂


    be a writer isn’t easy
    you need inspiration imagination a good way to write the things….
    you need to have a special eye to see things than other people can’t see



    I’ll work hard to be one. 🙂


    Hi Calcey,

    Lovely to meet you through your blog bein freshly pressed. You have a very refreshing style. I am glad you stuck to what you wanted to pursue in life. I will take a look at your blog once in a while, as I am an aspiring writer as well who has to devote a lot of time to it. As you were saying “Your learn how to write by writing”.

    Peace and love to you and all other writers around here



    Thanks for this post im an aspiring writer and I love to be able to look towards something and seek information from those who have been there!


    I really enjoyed this. If one wants to write then he or she should write and read. Works the same for music, play and listen. Very inspirational post. Thanks.


    Your post about your journey is absolutely inspirational. I’d like to become a writer what are your tips on creative writing and starting out? I’ve only just stumbled across your blog so i’m not sure whether you’ve done a post on it, if you have please let me know. Thanks for sharing.

    Here is my blog I’d apprecaite it, if you had a look at it.


    Wow, now I really understand how hard is to be a writer (even a blogger), tthat makes me wanna think a little more about this subject…


    Hi, just wanted to tell you, I liked this blog post.
    It was funny. Keep on posting!

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