We had the good fortune of connecting with Carolyn Highland and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carolyn, why did you pursue a creative career?
I’ve kept a journal since I was seven years old, so pursuing writing as a career always felt pretty natural. I took extra creative writing classes in high school and worked for the literary magazine and the school newspaper, and then majored in creative nonfiction writing in college. I would write most days even if I never published anything. After college I started to feel drawn toward writing about my experiences in the outdoors–using them as extended metaphors for truths about life that anyone can relate to. I feel really grateful to be able to share my work with the world, and that folks can relate to what I’ve written. That’s the most important piece to being a freelance writer and author–writing something that means something to others.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am an author, freelance writer, outdoor educator, and teacher. I write nonfiction essays focused on the outdoors that have been published in Backcountry Magazine, The Ski Journal, Wildsnow.com, Teton Gravity Research, and other outdoor blogs and websites. My first book, Out Here: Wisdom from the Wilderness, was released in 2020. It is a collection of essays that explores what the wilderness has to teach us about the human experience, using outdoor endeavors as extended metaphors for greater truths. I am also a teacher at an outdoor/experiential learning school.
I have been enormously privileged in so many ways to get where I am today. There have been struggles, but I acknowledge that I was spared many by my access to education, connections in the industry, and support from my family along the way.
As a writer, one of the biggest struggles is facing rejection on a regular basis. I have had essays turned down by publications far more times than they’ve been accepted, and you have to just work on accepting that as part of the process rather than taking it personally. I finished my book in 2017 and it took two full years of submitting queries and proposals to agents and publishing houses to get it accepted. I’ve tried to look at it from the perspective of rejections being a good thing–if I’m getting pieces rejected, it means I’m trying. It means I’m putting my work out there. Being willing to persevere in the face of rejection, believing whole-heartedly that it will happen, and being patient are massively important in succeeding in the publishing industry.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The thing I love about the Front Range is all the opportunities for big multi-sport days. You can have great ski conditions up in the mountains and warm running/biking/climbing temperatures down in the foothills, all in the same day. The Indian Peaks Wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Gore Range are some of my favorite spots for backcountry skiing and trail running, so I’d head up to those zones to do something long and sufferfest-y like the High Lonesome loop. Lots of great alpine lakes to jump into up there too! For biking, some of my favorite spots are North Table, Green Mountain, and Lair o’ the Bear. I used to live in Golden, so my favorite post-sweat beer & food spots are there. D’Deli for sandwiches and then New Terrain, Mountain Toad, or Golden City Brewing for beers!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people I’d love to shout out, but I’m going to use this space to celebrate my two main editors & creative friends–Emma Longcope and Hanna Bartels. Hanna and I studied creative nonfiction together at Northwestern University, and Emma and I met through mutual friends on a last-minute trip to Jackson, WY. Hanna and Emma are both incredibly talented writers & artists, and were generous enough to help me edit the manuscript of my book Out Here: Wisdom from the Wilderness, before I sent it out to publishing houses. Without their feedback and guidance, I would not have been able to deliver a manuscript to my publisher that was as polished as it was. I admire them both so much as humans, as creatives, and as friends, and could not have done it without them.
Joe Connolly/Chugach Peaks Photography Matt Keiser