Sunday, January 29, 2012

Put Your Heart Work First

After eleven inspiring days at Hamline, I arrive home and am faced with two things - normal life and due dates for packets of work to my advisor. These two things are, of course, in direct conflict. As much as I would love to settle down with a huge pile of books and my notebooks and focus on reading, study and writing for the next few months, I have a job to go to, necessary things to do like tax returns and bills to pay, and people who need or want my attention (and cats who do as well, but are easily diverted by food, which only works sometimes for humans!).

It was a common topic of discussion at Hamline, especially among the new students who were there for the first time. How on earth do you find the time for study when you get home? Especially if there are things in your life that loom like huge, gaping mouths, ready to suck you in and use up all your time and energy? Despite two terrific lectures about the writer's life during the residency, this is a battle that every writer has to fight, on their own.

But when others asked me, "How did you cope in your first semester?", I had to stop and think for a few moments. How did I cope? And what I realised was it came down to one thing - I put my heart work first. When it came to making a To Do list, study and writing for my Hamline packets went at the top. When it came to my diary, I looked at where I could make time for my heart work. When it came to social stuff, time on Facebook, TV - I chose my heart work first. That didn't mean I became a recluse! But once I made that firm decision and stuck to it, it became easier and easier to focus.

Funnily enough, not much else suffered. OK, I couldn't tell you more than a couple of TV shows I watched (hardly any loss), and probably people didn't get much from me in the way of emails and phone calls (sorry), and I did less unpaid overtime at work (gee, sad about that). But once I put the heart work first, everything else fell into line behind. Where it belonged. So often we think that the curveballs life keeps throwing at us are undodgeable, but I'm learning to simply catch them, deal with them, put them where they belong (a lot less stress that way, too) and get back to my heart work.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Me and the MFA - January 2012

I have just finished my second residency at Hamline University in Minneapolis/St Paul - 12 days of hard work, deep thinking and reflection. A lot of reading as well (I was reading ahead for my next 40 books on the list), six workshop sessions, many readings, lectures and presentations. The theme for this residency was Point of View, and we looked at this in every way, from picture books to YA, poetry to rabbits. Rabbits, you ask? I guess you had to be there!

I loved all of the lectures, and although I know about POV, there are always more ways to think about it. We looked at psychic distance a lot, and had plenty of discussions about things such as "What is the POV in Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus?" We also looked at the 3 act structure, playwriting, and most importantly for me right now, the writing life. It's not about time management so much as committment and being brave enough to go deeper into your writing. Facing fears and "breaking open on the page". That's a scary thought for many writers. We like to write about other people, mostly, especially imaginary ones. Write about ourselves, even through a character? No way!

But I think these challenges are what I'm going to be thinking about all through this semester, as I write picture books and keep working on my novel, as well as tackling the critical essays. What does it mean to be a writer? Really. Does it just mean we write stuff and try to get it published? Or do we need to engage more with what and why we are writing, and what are the themes that are most important to us? Claire Rudolf Murphy asked us two questions.

1. When was the last time you wrote something safe, in order to "get the job done"?
2. When was the last time you wrote something risky, and wrote with freedom?
I'm going to be thinking about these two questions on my long flights home! But after that, I have enough in my notebook to keep me going for six months. And then in July, I'll be back - minus the snow.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Give Yourself a Gift in 2012

Is today the day we all rush around and write down our goals for the year? I doubt it. Some people might have had some resolutions in mind over the past few days, but I'm betting that most of you are either on the beach or in the snow, or just having a good time while the holiday season is still going! But not long before Xmas, I tweeted a blog post that suggested you give any writers in your life the gift of TIME. Do something for them that allows them to take off and write.

Now, if you are a writer and you saw that mentioned somewhere, did you go to your nearest and dearest and suggest it to them? Maybe you should have, because the one thing we all know is that nobody ever rocks up and just gives it to you. Because it never occurs to them that you need it! Writing is easy, is it not? You just have to sit down and scribble some stuff or pound the keyboard for a while and there it is.

If you are a writer, I will bet that you have many stories about those close to you and how they react to your writing. I actually align writing to dieting - the more you try to do it, the more likely you are to be offered a piece of cake, or in the writer's case, a trip to the movies or the zoo or a night out, accompanied by a sniffy mood if you refuse. Let's face it - non-writers don't get it, and family are even worse. They seem to think that your writing takes something away from them.

So in 2012, if you want time to write, you will have to give it to yourself. You will have to wrest it from those others around you and gather it up and keep it for yourself. You will have to suffer words like selfish and self-absorbed (and maybe worse), you might even have to cope with a bit of emotional blackmail. But writing takes time. Good writing takes a lot of time. If you continually give it away to other people, your writing won't get done. See, you gave all those gifts to other people at Xmas, but what about you? Give yourself the gift of time to follow your passion.
And enjoy it. No gift wrapping required.