Niyousha writes: To celebrate the recent publication of Studying Creative Writing – Successfully (ed. Stephanie Vanderslice) and to give you a glimpse of what’s inside the book, we’re interviewing some of the contributors about how to study creative writing. We kicked off the interview series with Garry Craig Powell. Our second interviewee is Anna Leahy, who contributed the chapter, “Beyond Graduation: Sustaining Yourself as a Writer.” This is the first part of our interview with her.
Anna Leahy’s poetry collection Aperture is forthcoming from Shearsman, and the nonfiction book she co-wrote with Douglas R. Dechow, Generation Space: A Love Story, is forthcoming from Stillhouse. What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing, the book about pedagogy and the profession that she edited and co-wrote, is available from Multilingual Matters. She teaches in the MFA and BFA programs at Chapman University.
If you could only give your creative writing students one piece of writing to study, what would it be, and why?
Part of my approach to teaching, especially in undergraduate courses, is to encourage exploration and to help students understand the range of choices they have as writers. That said, instructors do make choices about what we ask a class to read each semester. I recently read Lynn Pedersen’s poetry collection The Nomenclature of Small Things, which draws from science and history, so I’d go with that for now, or maybe a Rebecca Solnit essay, which also mixes it up in different ways.
Your chapter in this book is about sustaining yourself as a writer beyond graduation, which has a whole lot to do with discipline and commitment. How do you deal with rough patches where you can’t seem to stick to schedule and keep writing?
For me, it helps to have multiple projects at different stages (and some external deadlines). I work steadily, but I’ve come to understand that an every-day writing habit sounds great but falls apart for me quickly, unless I’m at a writing residency. Reading about writing helps me, too; Jordan Rosenfeld’s book on persistence has a lot of good insight and pointers, and Robin Black’s Crash Course is a wonderful read.
What’s the most useful advice you’ve received regarding sustaining yourself as a writer?
Years ago, a colleague advised me to wait 24 or even 48 hours before replying when someone asks for info or for me to do something. I wrote about my struggle to balance yes and no several years ago, and I’m still struggling, but that waiting-to-respond advice is hugely useful. Also, Stanley Plumly once asked me whether I’d ever write a ten-syllable line. If we question our defaults and try new things, that can sustain the practice.
This is the first of two segments in an interview with Anna Leahy. In the next segment, Anna Leahy discusses her approach to creative writing and shares some creative writing advice. You can find out more about Anna Leahy at www.amleahy.com and http://loftyambitions.wordpress.com.