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Writerly Roundup – February 2020

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.


How top authors balance strong personal relationships with a writing career, Rebekah L Fraser, The Writer

Who as a writer hasn’t encountered the struggle of balancing the needs of the self and those around us? How can these shared experiences influence writing, while honoring the relationships we hold dear? Creating a balance among these factors can help a good writer propel their work into exceptional territory. Rebekah L. Fraser speaks with four authors, Mira Bartók, Chris Dombrowski, Hester Kaplan, and Jane Yolen about this balance, starting with those who they see the most.

“You have to go after a story or an essay like a pit bull with a piece of raw meat, and you cannot stop. You cannot let anyone get in your way.” —Mira Bartók

Bartók’s advice appeared in the July 2018 issue of The Writer, and her words have stuck with me months later. But how do successful writers maintain a steady creative practice – hanging on their stories like pit bulls, barriers be damned – and still keep their key personal relationships strong?

Bartók: He leaves me alone! I couldn’t be with anyone needy. I did that once in my life for less than two years and vowed I’d never be with anyone needy ever again.

Yolen: He called me a genius and thought I wrote beautifully, but he was also my first reader and was willing to tell me when something had gone off the rails. He took the kids off for day trips to buy me writing time. He came to conferences when he could (especially once the kids were grown) and was more interested in befriending writers and illustrators than computer scientists! He also insisted on getting me out of my chair to take extended serendipity trips, so I had landscapes to write about other than my front yard.

Kaplan: My husband, who also writes, is my first reader. I know that he won’t pull any punches when he reads what I’ve handed him. I do the same for him. To have a reader who understands how a piece of writing evolves and finds its shape through revision is invaluable.

Dombrowski: Mary’s dragged me out of some pretty desperate situations, existential quandaries, if you will, over the years. She has not once given up on my work, nor has she allowed me to give up on it. She’ll still listen to me read new passages aloud, too!

These writers share a common thread, and it’s as simple as being with those who can respect and support your point of view. This is a start, but how can the writer’s other relationships nurture and feed the drive?

Tehlor Kay Mejia creates a terrifyingly real world in her YA fantasy, Sarah Hansell, Street Roots News

In her interview, Tehlor Kay Mejia describes how turning attention towards the point of view of her own self and neighbors enabled her to develop her YA fantasy novel, “We Unleash the Merciless Storm,” Mejia explains how devotion to her community inspired her sweeping dystopian fantasy:

Sarah Hansell: Can you talk about why you chose fantasy as the medium for this story? How does fantasy as a genre fit for this story about resistance and revolution?

Tehlor Kay Mejia: It’s an interesting question, for me especially, because I originally wrote the first draft of “We Set the Dark on Fire” when Obama was still president. So the themes of the book, like the border wall and the immigrant detention and the resistance sympathizers disappearing, sort of started to happen after I wrote the book. For me, as a Mexican-American person, I was looking at my family and my culture and my friends, and trying to create a fantasy world that was the scariest thing that we could imagine. What would it be like if all of these things that are sort of on the back burner of our lives were brought to the forefront in really terrifying, totally in-your-face ways? As we got closer to publication, the election happened, the executive orders started coming down, and it all sort of started coming true. So it’s interesting because it seems like a fantasy world that’s a reaction to what’s going on around us, but actually it was the opposite. I was trying to come up with the worst thing that could happen, and then the worst thing happened. 

Hansell: How are the two main characters, Dani and Carmen’s, struggle and path to resistance related to or inspired by youth activism today, especially the activism of youth of color and queer youth of color? 

Mejia: I was active politically as a teen. I was definitely out there protesting the Iraq war, I was in speech and debate. I was really, really invested in bettering my world and finding a way to use my voice to create change in what was then sort of a naive way, but I think a good way. So Dani’s road is really kind of like a reflection on how I had approached the world and the bad things happening in it as a teen.

Mejia’s personal experience is a testament to how being faced with the challenges of friends and neighbors inspired a deeply interesting and provocative story that amplifies their shared point of view. In what ways have your own personal relationships assisted your writing practice? Please feel free to share in the comments!

Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!

Meredith Porretta is an award winning project manager, designer, writer, editor, illustrator, and performer. Her work has appeared in P&G Everyday, Good Day Philadelphia, Vogue Magazine, and Elle Magazine.

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