Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Building A Meaningful Writing Life

People think that writers enroll in an MFA program on a quest for publication, the shiniest treasure of all. hobbit

And maybe some writers do. Okay, many do. Most.

I guess I did, too.

I enrolled in the program with that shiny goal in mind.

And then, after intense writing and reading and studying, one of the biggest lessons I got out of Vermont College of Fine Arts is the importance of … life.

Yes, life.

The writing life. But also, the life outside of writing.

As I started to pay closer attention to the ebb and flow of my process and my creative habits, I discovered that the busier I was with other things, the more often I took time to step away from the keyboard, the more passionately I lived, the more productive became my writing output.

The less tightly I clutched my work in progress, the easier the words came.

The less the writing mattered in the big scheme of my life, the more I wrote, and the happier I felt about doing it.

I decided to try and build a new and meaningful professional career. In preparation, I committed to a one-year-long in-office literary agency internship, smack in the middle of my studies.

Did that new commitment affect my writing? Yes it did, in the best possible way!

Turned out, I had more to give to myself — and by extension, to my writing efforts — when I gave more to the world.

With this discovery, my real writing goal became not chasing publication, but building a meaningful and sustainable writing life.

Did that mean I’d stop submitting my work?

Not at all.

It’s simply about the shifting of the emphasis.

For me, building a meaningful writing life includes having: under construction

1. A regular writing routine

2. A story to work on

3. The next story waiting in the wings (this one’s maybe not a strict requirement, more of a nice bonus).

4. Setting aside some time for reading fiction

5. Being able to help support my family

6. Taking one day a week and/or occasional vacation time to just decompress and breathe and luxuriate in the life part of the equation

7. Giving something to the world, something else, something other than writing

daily ritualsAs part of my studies, I read up on habits of writers, artists, thinkers and scientists, from Pablo Picasso to Jane Austen, from Ingrid Bergman to Sigmund Freud in a super fun collection of biographical sketches that deals specifically with the working habits of composers, choreographers, sculptors, filmmakers, poets and lots and lots of novelists. The book, which I highly recommend, is called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. What I saw in these entertaining sketches reassured me that there is no ONE right way to build a meaningful artistic life. Some of the greats wrote in bed for 12 to 14-hour stretches. I know I couldn’t do that — in bed or otherwise. Others (sadly) could not work without the help of some powerful chemicals. I choose not to do that. 🙂 Some wrote 500 words and called it a day. (Hemingway, anyone?) Many had low-paying day jobs. Some built meaningful careers alongside but separated from their art.

What did all the greats have in common? A meaningful, consistent and productive artistic life. So, okay, maybe the #1 thing on my list is a must: a regular writing routine. Honestly, I’d say #4 also. Ask Stephen King, if you don’t believe me.

Everything else, though? You tell me.

What are the most important components of your meaningful writing lives? I’d love to know. But whether or not you share them here, I hope you take the time to answer that question for yourselves. And then follow through!

Happy building!

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March 22, 2015 - Posted by | Personal Mirror, VCFA Adventures, What I've Learned Series, Writing Mirror | ,

10 Comments »

  1. Great post, Katia, and it rings so very true to me. In my third semester, I am coming to a similar set of realizations and conclusions. It’s an amazing process!

    Comment by Tricia | March 22, 2015 | Reply

    • Thanks, Tricia. And yes, this is what attending a School of Magic does, right? It transforms you.

      Comment by Katia Raina | March 22, 2015 | Reply

  2. This month has been chocked full of school visits and life activities – (being very involved in someone else’s stressful world) and the amazing thing is I feel younger and more energetic than ever. I am not getting long days of writing in but truthfully I think long days are not always that productive. I need to be up and at ’em – moving around and involved in meaningful work and relationship. And yes those things fuel my writing life. So, yeah I hear ya, Katia and this resonates with me. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by joycemoyerhostetter | March 22, 2015 | Reply

    • So glad to hear it, Joyce! Weird how long days of writing can sometimes feel…well, kinda long 🙂 So triple cheers for meaningful work and relationships!

      Comment by Katia Raina | March 22, 2015 | Reply

  3. As I get older, I spend my time more wisely. I also work smarter than harder and have routines for many tasks. Therefore, I do have time for myself, which I didn’t have before.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | March 25, 2015 | Reply

    • Yay, Medeia! Very encouraging to hear that!

      Comment by Katia Raina | March 25, 2015 | Reply

  4. Katia, this book has been mentioned several times recently, and I remember when I first heard of it, too. It’s always attracted me! I’ll end up getting it someday, I hope. As for now, though, I’m still working on getting writing into my life in the way I want it to be…not just on occasional blog posts of my own, or the commenting on others’. We’ll see! It sounds like your education far exceeded your expectation 😀

    Comment by writersideup | March 26, 2015 | Reply

    • That’s for sure, Donna! And that’s saying something, because my expectations were already sky-high!

      Comment by Katia Raina | March 26, 2015 | Reply

  5. Reblogged this on .

    Comment by crimsoncountry1888 | March 26, 2015 | Reply

  6. Reblogged this on B. Shaun Smith.

    Comment by B. Shaun Smith | March 26, 2015 | Reply


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