Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Faculty Voices: Seasons of the Writing Life

Even though it’s still hot here in Spokane during the afternoons, as Jackie Briggs-Martin said in her post two weeks ago, it feels like back to school time in my writing life. Towards the end of August I took two weeks away from my writing to celebrate our daughter’s wedding (amazing) and oh, my … it has been tough to get going again. But after last week’s days of fits and starts this Monday morning the old routine kicked in more steadily and I am grateful.
For current students in our MFAC program, it is back to school time. First packets are coming due and a new beginning with a faculty advisor. Our graduates say that’s what they miss most - the regular contact with a mentor, the deadlines to write no matter how they feel on a given day or about the work at hand.
             Yet as much as September still feels like back to school after years of classroom teaching and raising two children, my writing life doesn’t always follow the seasons of the calendar year. I might be starting a new book project in May, revising in September, brimming with revision ideas for an old project in cold January before our residency. Sometimes I wish the writing life were like school, nine months a year with classes/writing project complete after the final exam. But books can take years to write (and revise, revise, revise) and if they get published, we need to work to keep them alive in the world of readers.
Before a book is accepted for publication, decisions need to be made along the way about when to share the work-in-progress, whom to get feedback from, when to submit to a contest or award, agent or editor. We faculty at Hamline talk often about the importance of revision, of making a manuscript so strong that it calls to be read and considered. But I have to admit that sometimes I have submitted work before it is ready for that scrutiny because I just needed to know - something. The narrative arc of producing a publishable manuscript can be long, making us anxious during this process. Is my manuscript any good? Will it find a home with a publisher? Will it have value to young readers?
            Publishing has changed in the 25 years I have been in the field. It’s tougher to get books accepted now – more commercial books are being published, less “school/library” books, my forte. I can whine. You can whine. But adjust we must. We must be rigorous in revision and single-minded in finding readers along the way who can help us bring our writing to the next level and the next. Those of us at the Hamline MFAC program have a built in community that share a common language of response and knowledge about children’s literature. I also have a writing group here in Spokane and longtime writing friends I stay in touch with around the country. Keep your writing growing– winter, spring, summer or fall – by finding strong writing supporters for all the seasons of your writing life.


  1. Such wise, honest words, Claire! Thank you! I'm so grateful (and lucky) to have willing readers and mentors. Their wisdom is invaluable. Bless them.

    That feeling that you mention, some sort of validation--that after hours, days, months, even years in the chair, a confirmation that the writing makes sense/or, perhaps doesn't at all and to someone else other than ourselves is critical. To fill the void/the unknown with an "answer" of some sort can provide a much needed boost. Anyway, cheers to the new year and to the words on the page...

    Write on,


  2. Great post, Claire. How true - we can whine all we want, but really - we just need to stick to some sort of schedule and complete the project at hand. How can we whine if we're not doing our part? (and God knows how I love to whine).
    Back to work for me!

  3. Absolutely. How about whining only allowed after we've done all the writing and revising we can on our part? Hear, hear.