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March 2, 2009

Yitka Winn ’09

The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake.
- Kurt Vonnegut

Last semester was supposed to be my experiment in "fulltime writing." I pulled a department no-no by trying to do two simultaneous projects - writing a novella and also writing a long creative nonfiction piece. I justified it with the fact that I wouldn't be taking any other classes, as I was only enrolled part time. Still, everyone discouraged me from doing so - and I have no triumphant, encouraging story to counteract the warnings I got against what I attempted. Though I did emerge in December - bleary-eyed, a little grizzled, but exhilarated - with two 70-page manuscripts that pleased me, the truth was that it was excruciatingly hard to be putting out new material each and every week on both pieces and also be trying to revise all the material for both pieces I already had - while still reading published works on a weekly basis and workshopping classmates' full manuscripts.

(Then there was the whole race organization thing...)

But of course, there is passion in the madness. The sense of accomplishment at the end was tremendous. What didn't happen, however, was my fulltime-writing experiment. I had envisioned myself waking up with the sun and birds each morning, going for a long run during which I'd plan out my writing for the day, then plunking down with my laptop and an oversized mug of fair-trade coffee at Oberlin Market and getting to work. Instead, I took on five times the amount of extracurricular activities that I should have, and thus had a hard time, it seemed, squeezing the writing process into my busy day-to-day schedule.

But, of course, there's no excuse for that. Any passion you want to develop into a habit, like writing - or running, or putting a dent in an epic reading list, or learning a new language or instrument - takes self-discipline, and the drive to commit to doing it every day. The concept of waiting around for "time to write" is maybe something that made sense when I was ten, and nothing was going to get in the way of my after-school novel-writing extravaganza sessions - but at 21, let's be honest, life inevitably will always get in the way. I'm still figuring this one out.

This semester, my plan was to be working 40-50 hours a week between my various part-time jobs. Unfortunately, with hard times befalling the work industry as they are, my part-time jobs have become a lot more part-time than I'd envisioned. Fortunately, rent in Oberlin is still cheap, and having saved the majority of my summer earnings, I have some cushion to work with, despite not having quite the income I'd been hoping for this semester. Even more fortunately, in a case of unforeseen silver lining, the extra free time on my hands has led me to get highly motivated about my writing, teaching myself the art of self-discipline when it comes to getting my words down on paper, and even self-educating a bit about the marketing side of writing, the publishing industry with magazines, journals, small presses, and heck, even greeting card companies.

See, when you're studying creative writing formally, you've got no choice; there are assignments and deadlines to meet each week, and a professor whose opinion you generally care about who will be disappointed in you if you show up empty-handed. There are writing prompts, ideas, building blocks to work with. There are reading assignments to keep you inspired and motivated.

Without the structure of classes, things get a little hairier. Even as passionate about reading and writing as I am, I often have a hard time justifying reading for my own pleasure. Somehow, there are always things that I feel obligated to put higher on my list of priorities. (In the case of this semester, stressing over trying to find extra part-time work has been a big one!) Letting myself write is an even sorrier situation.

But in an effort to revive my dreams today of being a self-disciplined fulltime writer, I went straight from work this afternoon to the Oberlin Market - a fantastic spot tucked behind the frontlines of downtown Oberlin that multitasks as a small organic grocery, bakery, coffeeshop, tea bar, humble cafe, venue for occasional raw foods dinners (again, highly recommended to you all), and watering hole for all types who want to get away to somewhere peaceful to feel good about being alive! I made myself a cup of dandelion tea, had some freshly baked sun bread with red pepper hummus, cracked open a blank new notebook and uncapped my blue Sharpie pen. On a side note, I feel it's my duty to put in a plug for these pens; if you're anything like me (i.e. diehard pen enthusiast), prepare to have your pen-loving soul touched and mind blown.

I left the market with a bar of Chilies & Cherries Dark Chocolate (insert plug for that as well here) and a lot of enthusiasm about some writing projects I've arbitrarily decided to assign myself - though that's making it sound more dull than it really is. Frankly, I'm thrilled to have found some direction for my writing - an idea for a new nonfiction manuscript beginning to percolate. Direction is good. Very good, as I really feel so far that I've been floating aimlessly - more like floundering, really - in the waters of non-academic-structure. (How's that for a cringe-worthy metaphor?)

Wish me luck.

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