Leaving the House Unlocked
“…occasionally it hits me that I’m carrying the names of two people who seem to have experienced more pain than joy during their brief time above ground, and a less optimistic person than I might consider themselves cursed to carry such a couple’s names, but I’ve always seen it as an honor, a chance for redemption, an inspiration to cultivate as much joy and adventure and kindness as possible, no matter how much time I’m given.”
Leaving the House Unlocked turns trauma into a chance for healing. It is a reminder to reflect, accept, never forget, but also not let what happened then define you as a person now. Elizabeth “Liz” Enochs invites readers in to tour through some of her most intimate memories. She revisits moments with ex-lovers, close and distant family members, and old friends. Her compelling honesty allows us to explore family and personal identity as well as acknowledge parts of the past—whether good or bad—that helped shape her as an individual.
Through personal essays written entirely out of single-sentence prose, she questions when nostalgia becomes grief and remembers when life was cruel and when it was forgiving. Enochs also uses this collection to raise awareness on issues concerning animal welfare, environmentalism, and sexual violence.
Interview with the Author
Etchings Press: What does your creative process look like?
Elizabeth Enochs: It can look a little different depending on whether I’m writing fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry—and whether or not my piece requires research—but it almost always includes coffee, long walks, and music. I like to brainstorm when I’m walking, and I typically listen to music while I’m walking as well. I take a notebook with me everywhere, so if I think up a poem while I’m walking, or I figure out an outline for a fiction or a creative nonfiction piece or even a whole manuscript, then I’ll jot it down when I’ve finished my walk. I usually start with pen and paper and then move on to my laptop or smartphone. I also find my writing brain tends to work best in the morning these days, so when I’m ready to sit down and write on my devices, it’s usually shortly after I’ve had my morning coffee or while I’m drinking it. I like to write at my desk—which sits in front of a window facing the Mark Twain National Forest—or on my porch. I live in a tiny home in the Missouri Ozarks, so I’m almost always writing in the woods.
EP: What advice would you give to aspiring creative writers?
EE: I feel like most writers have a tendency to let perfectionism get in their way, and sometimes it keeps them from even getting started, so I always tell aspiring writers and writing students: “let it be crap!” Just get your words on the page and edit later. My second piece of advice: whenever possible, sleep on a piece before submitting it.
EP: How do you overcome writer’s block?
EE: Sometimes, I don’t! What I mean by that is: I’ve come to realize breaks are important. When I was writing Leaving the House Unlocked, I wrote and/or researched daily for a couple of months. When I finished the manuscript, I didn’t write any new pieces for weeks. Then, I wrote a full-length poetry manuscript in a month.
That said, I know from my time as a student and a journalist that it’s good to learn how to deal with writer’s block whenever deadlines are a concern. In that case, I have a few strategies. Sometimes, I’ll start with some “productive procrastination,” like cleaning and organizing my home. It doesn’t always work, but it can help me feel motivated and capable enough to push past the writer’s block and get to typing. Going for a walk or a bike ride before I sit down to write can be helpful as well. Nature is a great source of inspiration for me, and exercise helps me get rid of any nervous energy that might steal my focus. Reading the work of other writers who inspire me can be effective too. And while it may sound conceited, sometimes reading my own stuff can be helpful. It reminds me that I’m capable—that I’ve overcome writer’s block before and I can do it again. If all else fails, I just sit down at my desk and tell myself: “let it be crap!”
EP: When did you realize you wanted writing to be a part of your life?
EE: I started journaling sporadically when I was six, but when I was around seven years old my mom handed me an empty notebook and told me to fill it with stories. That got me hooked on writing, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I knew I wanted to study writing in college and pursue writing professionally.
EP: Is there an author that you’ve read that inspired your writing content or style?
EE: Oh goodness, there’s so many! I didn’t really enjoy reading until I read Jane Eyre in the eighth grade, and my love for that book is probably one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to writing and reading pieces that explore darkness in some form. Thank you, Charlotte Brontë.
As a Missourian who enjoys writing about Missouri, Mark Twain has inspired me as well. I’ve always admired how he was able to write honestly about his home region—even when that meant portraying it in an unflattering light—while still managing to give the impression (at least to this reader) that he was writing from a place of love; because while it saddens me that Missouri has been on the wrong side of history frequently, and it can still be a rather regressive region in the realms of lawmaking and governing, I have a lot of love for my home state. I’m quite proud of the land itself—there’s a lot of natural beauty here. I’ve felt inspired by my fellow Missourian Gillian Flynn too—she does Missouri Gothic so well, and while she may not always paint Missouri as the safest place, I don’t think she’d write so much about this state if she didn’t have some type of love for it.
In college, I found myself inspired by Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Her ability to explore trauma while simultaneously creating something beautiful is one of the qualities I aim for in my writing. I was inspired by some undeniably problematic writers in college as well: Ernest Hemingway and Charles Bukowski. I still go back and read “Hills Like White Elephants” sometimes when I’m feeling creatively stuck, and when I read Bukowski’s On Cats many years ago I couldn’t put it down. Hemingway inspired me because he would draw creative inspiration from his own adventures, and that’s what I wanted to do. Bukowski inspired me because he also wrote about his life, and he did it skillfully. Both of them inspired me because their writing styles were so simple yet so descriptive. There are plenty of Hemingway and Bukowski works I haven’t read and won’t read—Bukowski’s reputation for sexism and Hemingway’s reputation for racism are very much well-founded. Even so, I think it’s accurate to say they were both talented writers.
EP: What has been the most helpful piece of advice that you have received for your writing?
EE: When I was in college, it was still a pretty common practice to submit printed pieces/manuscripts via snail mail. I remember one of my professors advising me and my classmates to leave our pieces in a drawer for a week, or even a month, before reviewing and then submitting them. I don’t always want to wait that long, but I have found that just sleeping on a piece of writing can make all the difference.