I first discovered Olivia through a Facebook video a couple of years ago where she performed her poem, “Ode to the Women on Long Island.” If you’re at all familiar with the great force of nature that is the women on Long Island, Olivia’s poem will resonate with you. The rest of her poetry packs an equal, emotionally charged yet well-grounded, punch.
The first question I asked Olivia when we met in true 2020 fashion over Zoom was what she thought it meant to be a creator. Olivia has been a writer for most of her life, but being a creator changed for her when it became a full-time job.
“It is my job, and it’s a job I have to show up to,” Olivia said. “Versus before when I would just sort of wait until inspiration struck. Now it feels like more of a responsibility before it felt like just a part of who I was.”
Turning your creativity into a living is the dream, but when your craft becomes what puts food on the table, certain challenges arise. To breathe life into her words, Olivia turns to the stories around her. She observes and pulls out those stories, both from her life and that of others, to illuminate the most interesting aspects of being human.
“I’m always walking through the world with my palms up and thinking critically about not just things I’m experiencing, but the patterns I’m experiencing,” she said.
Olivia grew up hanging out around abandoned cars in New Mexico and has since lived in the Caribbean, New York, Boston, and California. She often incorporates the individuality of each place and its inhabitants into her writing.
“I started to think a lot about how place affects the way we entertain ourselves. I sort of always feel like I’m a sociologist when I’m interacting with space…I think if it’s done right, writing about people can really honor people.”
This year has proved the importance of establishing a routine to get shit done. Olivia practices this when she’s manifesting her creativity and has even found ways to use the solitude she found herself in this year to better her writing.
“I have a really strict routine, and once I established that routine, which is really basic – what time I wake up, what I drink in the morning, what I wear, where my desk sits – I’ve made it so that I associate that routine with writing. If I follow this routine of mine, I get in the mood to write somehow,” Olivia said. “I think quarantine did help me get to this more emotional, personal place and distance myself from the outside world and outside perspectives.”
Olivia’s third book Whoever You Are, Honey is set to come out in 2022. The story of her first novel is inspired by her own life yet follows a character who is a little more extreme. It revolves around a lonely young woman who becomes obsessed with the seemingly perfect couple next door, which unravels a series of twists when the truth about their lives comes out. This book explores the intricate culture of Silicon Valley, perfection and its myth, and the male gaze.
“What would it look like if I was just a little more unhinged? If I had just lost it a little more? Which is what’s fun about fiction, because you can explore a personhood that you haven’t had,” she said.
Olivia said something about her old work that will stick with me for a while. Fellow creators, take note. Many people look at their past work and involuntarily cringe (guilty). But not Olivia; she looks at her past work and feels close to it.
“I often look at my old work and I’m like, man I was so brave. I was so raw. I was so naïve in this beautiful way before I had the pressure of an audience, or before I had the pressure of a job.”
Olivia understands the point where art and hard work meet; a hard concept to grasp for creatives of any kind. She addressed failure in the sense that gifted artists often hit a wall when they realize that talent alone won’t breed success.
“I think what it [failure] teaches you is it’s not just about natural talent, but it is also about work and it is also about honing your craft. I think in that way it’s really important to feel that. Because I was a young writer who at one point maybe had kind of an ego, because you’re the best writer in your creative writing high school class or whatever,” she said. “I think it’s good to realize there are a lot of other people working very hard at the same thing you’re working at.”
There are a plethora of reasons why Olivia Gatwood shines on this list, but her self-awareness stands out amongst them. Without fear, she speaks of herself with a profound understanding of her conviction, dreams, and faults. Hardly any people know themselves this well. Though this year has been as different for her as it has been for all of us, Olivia continues to create in new ways while she digs for stability in a routine.
This story appears on the December 20 issue of Mud, "Lisztomania." You can purchase a digital and print copy here.