A little over a month ago I was asked the dreaded question almost every graduate faces, "What are you going to do now?"
The obvious answer to this was, "Find a job." Isn't that what most graduates say as they complete their degree? And it wasn't a glib statement. I have financial responsibilities which mean I do need to work to earn a regular salary of some kind. But as I've contemplated what I want to do next, the scariest thing I've faced is how to go on writing and being productive without the deadlines and expectations that I had to meet as I was working toward my Master in Fine Arts (MFA) degree.
It is an odd thing to feel adrift after two years of intense reading and writing. I miss the support and the deadlines to some degree. But I also feel like a kid again, free from school with weeks and weeks of summer vacation stretching out before me.
It hasn't been all goofing off. Not two weeks after I graduated I was recommended for freelance work as a transcriber. PAID WORK!!! A great thing, even better, paid work that I could do from home. But it was a job, which meant deadlines, and a regular committed schedule. That was followed closely by an email from another fellow graduate asking if I'd like to do a joint venture with her for the fall residency. "Yes!" I said. "Of course I'd love an opportunity to return "home" to Spalding a semester after graduating." With this, the work won't be direct income based, but there will be compensation for it. If the venture goes as we hope, it will mean more working, not alone this time, thankfully, but it will be a commitment. So in terms of earning income, things are looking fairly positive.
But in terms of writing, things aren't as clear cut. Yes, I have projects I'm working on. Yes, I've been trying to write some each week, if not everyday. Yes, I've been sending out queries for my work to be published or to find an agent to represent me. Still . . . it isn't quite the same. I don't have a mentor anymore. If I do go back to residency, it won't be with the classmates I graduated with or as a student.
How to get beyond that fear and embrace the skills I learned from Spalding? First by reading. I've been reading lots and lots of books. Mostly for pleasure, but a lot of what I've been reading has been in the young adult genre. It's been nice to read and be as narrow or broad in the scope of what I read as I want. I learned in my MFA program that while it's important to read in the genre you write in, which for me is fantasy, it's also important to be open to other genres and areas of writing. I've gotten great ideas in the past for plot or characterization from unexpected sources. So while I've been reading a lot of fiction it hasn't all been fantasy based fiction. I've thrown in mysteries and some magical realism into the mix. I've also been reading some nonfiction about ancient civilizations as well as some analyses of folklore and fairy tales.
|Nori outfit for traveling to Gran's|
The other thing I've been doing a lot of is exploring. Whenever I go someplace new or different from the norm I take lots of pictures, because you never know when an image might spark an idea. For instance I took time to go to the KY Renaissance Faire for the first time in several years and I got some great pictures of costumes that one of my characters could wear in one of my current works-in-progress, The Red Hood. Don't want to give too much away here, but this looks like a real kick-butt outfit for my Celtic influenced Red Ridinghood character.
|Asian carving of the Virgin Mary|
Another place I visited recently gave me a great idea for an artifact for my middle grade mystery. At the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio, which by the way has free admission to the public for most of their exhibits year-round, I found this interesting figure, and it got me thinking. Anybody can think of obvious magical artifacts for stories, like the Spear of Destiny, or Excalibur. But what if the artifact was just as powerful, but far less obvious to the untrained eye? Perhaps a small sculpted figurine like this?
To that end I've also been re-watching a lot of old episodes of Warehouse 13 and some Lara Croft Tomb Raider. I might also have to take up playing Tomb Raider the video game. I think it could really help me figure out the aunt in my mystery better and think of some ways for her to train my main character, Josh, without him being fully aware of it. I also need to think up some creative ways for her to go on some secret missions without him knowing, at least at first. Hmmmm.
The point is, I'm learning to cope with being more independent as a writer, by allowing myself to enjoy the process. That's the biggest "what now" I've had to navigate. If I learned anything at Spalding, it was that every writer's path is unique. In order to keep doing this writing thing you must never stop embracing the endless wonder of the imagination. I still love what I do, writing. I also love that being a writer for young people means that a lot of my research involves exploring, playing, and reading stacks and stacks of books, continuing to live out my childhood, essentially. Embracing that endless and optimistic sense of wonder nurtures my soul and my imagination. Hopefully if I can continue doing that, no matter what happens on the practical job front, and I continue to write and get published I can open up worlds of wonder for others and nurture their souls and imaginations. How cool will that be in terms of what I do next?