Hetty Eliot is a blogger, who writes about her difficulties in working within the retail, writes short stories, and talks about her struggles with epilepsy.
When I came to WordPress, she was the second blogger I befriended, write after Page Turner. (You can read my conversation with Page here.)
On a side note, she also comments a lot. Which is nice. A like is a sort of neutral response when it comes to me. a comment is much more appreciated.
Let’s begin the interview:
Me: First of all, thanks for agreeing for this interview. Let’s start with something simple. Tell us a little about yourself?
Hetty: Hmm. About me. I am pretty boring. I am thirty-three and live in the northeastern United States. I studied political science and philosophy, most of which I don’t remember. As a consequence of my disastrous mistakes, I am stuck working in a local department store as an administrative assistant. I started blogging in the beginning of 2020, usually about my personal life, and then stories. My writing is influenced by my employment, emotions, Catholicism, and epilepsy. I hope someday to finish a book or collection of stories.
Me: Did you use to write before you opened your blog? Or you only started to write when you created it?
Hetty: I started writing in third grade. I loved going to the library and choosing the biggest books I could find. Being a part of that was my dream and I started writing stories and keeping diaries. We had an old electric typewriter that I would use as well. Although I will say, while I loved seeing my words in print, I hated how the noise alerted everyone in the house that I was writing. Nothing’s more annoying or discouraging than to have your parents asking you why you wrote the word “the” and was it about them. Anyways, I can’t really remember if I wrote stories in high school–I think I was too busy writing fifty-page love letters that I never sent. I didn’t write fiction in college that I can recall but I wrote mountains of academic papers. In graduate school, life got very hard and things started falling apart in my life, but I started writing stories again, to cope with everything, I guess. By 2019, I was seriously depressed and started therapy. In the meantime, I had purchased an inexpensive plan on WordPress to start a blog, but even though I had spent money, I was too afraid to start. With time, however, I began to have more hope about the future, and in early 2020, I finally said “F it” and published my first post.
Me: Why were you depressed? (As much as I don’t want to ask that question. Why drudge up old memories? Open old wounds?)
Hetty: It’s okay to ask, I’m the one who brought it up and who airs their dirty laundry on their blog all day long. I think it is a combination of a natural inclination to depression and things that have gone wrong in life. The worse we feel, the more our vision is clouded and we spiral downward through poor decision-making. Our thoughts start going along the same negative pathway in our brain until it’s a rut that they can’t deviate from. It’s a struggle to escape from a negative thought process but luckily, I found a good therapist who taught me to challenge negative thoughts. I still have a hard time but it’s gotten much better. I think it will always be hard because of my disposition, but I have hope.
Me: Is there a specific type of genre you would like to write? Or you just write, uncaring of such things.
Hetty: I wouldn’t say I have a specific genre. Usually, I have a psychological concept in my head and I go from there. I like humor, tragedy, and absurdity mixed together. Crazy female stalkers and incompetent retail workers are on the silly side, but I have also written about disability, illness, and depression. I don’t categorize my stories under a particular genre but I will sometimes add elements of things like sci-fi or romance or whatever to serve my narrative purpose. Sometimes I take an autobiographical detail and take it to a fictional extreme.
Me: Speaking of retail, given your multiple posts on your blog, it is no secret you work in a retail store. There are perceptions regarding working at such places, like people there are actually incompetent, or were lazy during their school years, and now they are suffering the consequences. Or they don’t make much money. What do you think about these perceptions?
Hetty: Oof. I have met all kinds of people working in retail. Some people are indeed lazy and incompetent. Other people work hard, too hard. I would say the vast majority of our employees grew up in lower-income homes and did not have the opportunity to get a good education. The mall where I work is located near a poor city, so it draws from that population. I would say that I am among those stuck with the consequences of poor decisions.
When I first started over ten years ago, people were still feeling the effects of the “Great Recession” of 2007, and we had many employees who were older people who had been laid off. I myself was in graduate school at the time (and had no plan to stay in retail long, but that’s another story). So, we had very competent workers who were just down-on-their luck. We also have a lot of long-term stinkers who started decades ago when retail was actually a career where you made a decent living. Those days are long gone. Right now, the hiring situation is dire and all we’re getting is lazy, unethical kids because the job market improved and quality people can be picky again.
Me: But the problem is, people just look down upon you if you work at a fast-food restaurant, or at a retail store. I’ve seen some people who are unwilling to disclose their job as a result. Do you think that it is unfair?
Hetty: That’s a good question. No, it’s definitely not fair. No one should have to feel ashamed of what they do. I firmly believe that no one is above anything, and therefore they shouldn’t look down on people. I was a very arrogant person when I was in college because I had everything going for me, and I did look down on others. Then I screwed everything up and learned the hard way. I admit I live in dread of running into someone I know from college while I’m at work. One time I did, and although I had already graduated from grad school, I lied and said I was finishing up my degree and was just working there for a short time. I’m too old now to play that card. I do hate disclosing where I work, out of embarrassment. I always say I work “for” X, not that I work “at” X. For some reason, if you say “for,” people think your job is more important. It’s sad all the way around.
I will say though, in my own favor, that I never treated service workers badly. I cannot stand when I see people being rude to waiters or retail clerks. It’s pathetic to see somebody lording it over someone who can’t defend themselves, all because of perceived economic status, as though they’re intrinsically better because they’re spending money. In my case it was more that I was conceited towards my classmates. Well, I can’t act like that anymore, now can I? But it’s okay, because in some ways I’m less of an a-hole now.
Me: Wow, back in 2007, I was crying to my mom because I didn’t want to go to boarding school.
Anyway, enough about the traumatic memories. Instead, let’s talk about some more traumatic memories! You talked about your academic career. What was it about, and why did you have to leave it?
Hetty: It feels so odd to talk about this, it’s like talking about a past life. In college, I majored in political science and philosophy. I can barely remember what I specifically studied and wrote about. There was a lot of Plato, Nietzsche, and political parties from what I recall. My goal was to get into graduate school, earn my PHD, and get a job as a professor. I was a very good student and did get into grad school. However, I didn’t mesh well with anyone there, and I was extremely lonely. I had some interpersonal conflict with a professor and by the time I started my second year, I was so depressed that I decided to drop out. While applying to other schools, I got my department store job, which was only supposed to be a seasonal job while I waited to start another school. I did get admitted to another school and earned my master’s degree, but I did not continue onto the Ph.D. I wrote about why in this post:
The thing is, I went to a rather small liberal arts college where the professors are not famous. They are primarily teachers, not big-time researchers and publishers. I studied around the clock–I’d take my books out to the kitchen with me when I woke up, and I’d study up until I went to bed. My habits were so good that I never even had to pull a single all-nighter. All I cared about was A’s and being a good student. I naively believed that being a scholar meant having lots of knowledge. I prided myself on knowing all sides of an issue. Therefore, imagine my shock when I got to a fancy grad school and found out that academia is all about politics–but not the study of politics. It was all bickering and in-fighting. Believe me when I tell you that academia is full of the pettiest, nastiest, most jealous people in the world. I wasn’t made for that kind of battle. So, there was this, and then all the issues associated with epilepsy and my failing memory (that I wrote about in the referenced post) that ended my academic career.
Just a note about social life in case you were curious. Obviously, I never went to a single party in college, but I already told you how arrogant I was. Of course, I wasn’t acquainted with anyone who had parties and I’m sure no one would want a poop like me there anyway. That’s not to say I had no friends. I met my fiancé there. We just like hanging out together. We still see our mutual friend that we met through.
Me: Wow. And here I thought office politics was petty. It really brings down the opinion of academia, doesn’t it?
Let’s turn to writing again. Do you have an idea file of sorts? Where do you record your ideas, even if they’re not good ones? Or do you just prefer to keep them in your brain, and write them down later?
Hetty: I have to write down anything and everything that pops into my head, good or bad, or it’s lost forever. I find that I need to develop an idea through writing or it just won’t grow. Some people can imagine whole plots and characters in their heads but I can’t. It has to be typed or on paper or it goes no further than the phrase or idea or image I just thought of. I don’t have a specific place to keep ideas. I have many physical notebooks for diaries, blogging, self-improvement, stories, you name it. I also have a million Word documents on my computer. I usually save whatever ones I’m currently working on the desktop, and when I’m done, whether because I completed the piece or gave up on it, I put it into a file folder. I’m very big on having things in folders on my computer. I’m quite scatterbrained and I hate it because I’d like to be super-organized, but I’m not. I just try to contain the mess as best I can. When I’m working on something longer, I keep a notebook and write in it when I’m not at my computer, and then transfer the notes when I can. I also keep separate documents for paragraphs I remove but can’t bear to delete.
Me: What do you think about the advice like “Write every day!” Or “Don’t wait for the muse, it is finical!”
Hetty: (I think by “finical” you mean either finicky or fickle)
I am a believer in the principle of writing every day. The muse is more likely to show his face if he sees you working day after day. He’ll get curious about what you’re doing without him and may want to show you up. All joking aside, I think it’s important to maintain a habit that you build into your day, that’s as part of your schedule as brushing your teeth. Inspiration can happen anytime, and it’s just a blessing to be taken advantage of whenever possible. Once it bestows the gift, it’s up to us to get to work on it, and inspiration will be given again as long as we keep doing our part. If you haven’t built up your writing muscles, how are you going to have the strength to put in the work your new idea deserves? Plus, writing every day, even when you’re not feeling it all, whether it be in a diary, on your computer, whatever, keeps you in the game and tides you over until the time you feel really inspired.
Me: You got my mistake. (I shall not remove it during editing.) Now, this will be the final question. What do you think about reading or consuming other media? I distinctly remember Will Wight (I have reviewed two of his books on my blog,) saying that when you watch something, or read something, think of it as research for your future writing.
I have also seen other writers giving advice like “Read a lot.” Do you think to fuel the imagination, it is important to go out, and see what others are doing?
Hetty: (Final question?! I was just warming up!)
Do we need to read? Yes, yes, yes, and big yes. If you want to write, you must read. It is truly non-negotiable. We should engage other forms of art, both high and low, to feed our imaginations. But reading is number one. This is how you absorb story structure and new vocabulary. You can read how-to books all day about plots and story arcs, but you’ve got to read to really have it sink into your bones.
It’s important to get out, too. Listen to people talk, imagine their conversations as written dialogue so you can picture what it’d look like on the page or how it would sound being read out loud. This will help you get an ear for different patterns and flows of spoken language so that your characters don’t all sound identical with the author’s narration.
When you read a lot, you subconsciously test out the style you’re reading. At least I catch myself doing that. That’s why it’s important to read widely so that you test out many voices and develop your own unique one. You’ll enter a sort of cosmic conversation with the writers, and if you work hard, you’ll discover what feels most natural to you.
When I’m in a dry spot with reading, it definitely shows in my writing. That’s how I can tell the difference.
Tanish, thank you so much for interviewing me. I enjoyed your questions immensely and I believe you will develop your many talents!
I took this interview on the email. I often felt as If I was playing a correspondent’s chess game, where you play the game over the days or months.
I regret that I couldn’t ask her more questions aside from writing. If I ever talked to her, I’ll be sure to ask her different questions.
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