We’re so excited that Traci Mullins is going to be joining us in Costa Rica this coming January! Here Traci talks candidly about honoring the 8-year-old little girl inside of her that loved to play with words and how she is finally allowing HER to take the lead again.
Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?
Traci Mullins:I have a taxing day job, so this is definitely a challenge. In order to stay on task as a self-employed person, I have to set office hours and stick to them lest I give in to the temptation to goof off all day! Therefore, writing in the mornings, as many people do, doesn’t work for me. Evenings are usually family time, so I’ve been setting aside an hour or two at the end of my workday to change environments (usually to a coffee shop) and give dedicated attention to my writing. I have to admit I don’t always write, but I at least do something related to writing, whether it’s taking an on-line class, reading others’ writing, or brainstorming story ideas. At this point, only a few months into writing my own stories, I’m trying not to be too black and white by telling myself that only the time I’m producing is “real” writing time. For me, anything I can do to fuel my creativity counts and will hopefully pay off over the long haul.
Nancy: Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?
Traci: I stumbled upon this genre in January, quite by accident, when I was poking around on the internet, looking for fiction writing resources. I help other people write books for a living, so unfortunately I abandoned my own creative writing efforts decades ago. Over Christmas I had a slow period at work and decided that it was time to reengage the young girl in me who loved to write little stories. When I read about Flash, it seemed like a perfect place to start because it didn’t intimidate me like writing something longer did. I’ve since discovered that it’s more challenging than I anticipated, but I love it! I like taking one moment or event and unpacking it with just the right amount of detail, and I especially like being able to finish a story fairly quickly. Certainly not every story I write is good, but once in a while I come up with something that makes me happy, the way writing stories did when I was a child.
Nancy: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Traci: I’d like to say that I follow the advice I hear most often: “Write something every day.” But I actually value most what I read in your interview with Gay Degani (thank you, Gay!): “You are what you believe in, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, what’s hurt you, what’s made you stronger.” I have tried using other people’s writing prompts, but the stories I’m most pleased with are those that feel authentically mine. So I try to dig into my own life and trust that there are story seeds to be found. Coming up with story ideas is by far my greatest challenge as a writer, so I have to practice patience and hone my skill at listening to my own life and heart.
Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? Where can we read it (if it’s available)?
Traci:Since I only started writing a few months ago, I don’t have a lot to show for myself–haha! But the first two stories I submitted did get accepted, at Flash Fiction Magazine. The first, called “Saved,” was posted on line on 3/10/18. READ IT HERE
The one that means the most to me, however, is “Animal Pancakes,” and they haven’t given me the publication date for that one yet.
Nancy: React to this quote: “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.”–Diane Ackerman
Traci: You couldn’t have given me a better quote to ponder because the ONLY reason I started writing again was to honor the 8-year-old in me who used to write prolifically, as pure play. I still have all the stories I wrote back then. It saddens me that I abandoned that girl, for many different reasons, so as I begin to pick up the pen again, it’s critical that I honor her and allow her to lead the way. As a professional non-fiction writer, it’s hard not to take everything I write seriously; but I am committed to creating space for the young creative in me to experiment and goof off with words, which have always been my favorite playthings. As I’ve been doing this over the past few months, I have indeed learned a lot about the craft, but that is a secondary benefit.
Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Traci: I have helped hundreds of authors write books, doing a lot of writing as well as being published myself in the process, but writing fiction requires a completely new type of risk. Going from expert to novice is scary, but with the support of other writers I hope to create a safe space for my own creativity to be nurtured.
A random fact: at age 45, I went to nursing school and practiced as an oncology and hospice nurse until recently, when I returned to my first love: words.
TraciMullinshas more than three decades of experience in coaching, editing, book doctoring, and collaborating on hundreds of non-fiction books, helping authors and speakers to formulate and convey messages close to their hearts in an accessible and compelling style. She has helped launch the careers of many first-time writers as well as developed long-term coaching relationships with veterans of the trade. She specializes in developing titles on topics of spirituality, psychology, relationships, health & wellness, and memoir and considers it a privilege to shepherd authors through the concept-shaping and writing process. For more detailed information on her projects, see her profile on LinkedIn.
The lovely Gay Degani is joining Nancy and me for Create in Costa Rica in January. We’re so excited to work with her and everyone! (Note: Though it’s filling up, some spaces in the Costa Rica retreat are still available.)
Hi,Gay. You’re joining us in Costa Rica in January to write, commune, rest, explore in an exotic space. We can’t wait! Can you talk a little about how you honor your writing time and your creative life in other ways? (it’s okay to talk about how you struggle with this too if that’s the case!)
2017 was a difficult year for me and I don’t think I’m alone in my reaction to the political situation, the number of shootings (my daughter was at the Las Vegas concert), and the sexual harassment revelations. Also for me, my desire to write another novel has made me come up against my own brand of angst.
However, being part of the online writing community has been a writing “life-saver” for me. It saved me in 2007 and it’s saved me in 2017. What I’ve tried to do to counter my lack of productivity last year is to make certain the same thing doesn’t happen in 2018 by signing up for classes on-line and retreats like the one you and Nancy Stohlman are putting together. With a Barrelhouse class and one with One Story completed, I’m already hard at work in 2018. It’s important, I think, to surround myself with as many like-minded people as I can, and writers make up my tribe.
Respond to this quote from Natalie Goldberg:
“Writing practice brings us back to the uniqueness of our own minds and an acceptance of it. We all have wild dreams, fantasies, and ordinary thoughts. Let us to feel the texture of them and not be afraid of them.Writing is still the wildest thing I know.”
I love Natalie Goldberg. Her books and tapes (yes, back then it was audio-tapes) gave me permission to be a writer. For so long I believed being an writer was a god-given gift and if you had that gift, you couldn’t help but write, no matter the odds.
Spending time to write always felt selfish to me. Something I would, of course, make myself do if I had that “GOD-GIVEN GIFT.”
But I always had other things on my agenda and they seemed so much more vital to my everyday life–kids, a husband, lists of errands–and I did them. The result was very little time to write, and since I didn’t feel irresistibly compelled to put words down, I thought I must not have that “GOD-GIVEN GIFT.”
But this concept is so so wrong. Yes, a person does need some amount of natural talent, but so much of developing that talent is believing you have a right to spend time honoring it, letting it breathe, and accepting that what you write doesn’t need to be perfect the first time around, and that it’s okay to let the act of writing take up chunks of your life.
Natalie Goldberg helped me see how to negotiate around my two great lacks–of confidence and of craft–by doing “morning pages.” Performing this early communion with myself allowed me to wrestle with questions on paper rather than in my mind where I could so easily push them into a dark corner. I owe as much to her as I do to the on-line writing community.
What is your favorite flash you’ve written (not “best” or “most successful” necessarily, but the one you love the most) and why?
I don’t know if I can really answer this. Each one that finds itself written is a little piece of my heart and my life. They are like children, some easily delivered and others full of pain.
And I never know what will resonate with others. Some of my pieces I feel are struggling so hard to grow up and I worry and nurture and almost give up, but then they do something to make me proud–like getting published. The ones I sense will go out there and slay dragons come back defeated. Like many mothers, I can’t pick favorites. Each feel special to me in their own way.
Is there something we probably don’t know about you that you’d like to share?
I feel as if my life is an open book. If you read my stories, you will glimpse many different aspects of “me,” though none of those are all of me. You are what you believe in, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, what’s hurt you, what’s made you stronger.
Oh, I love that. It’s so true and wise. What are you most looking forward to in Costa Rica?
You, Kathy, and Nancy, and being with other writers on the trip. This is what I need and crave. What most writers need and crave: To be with their tribe, if only for a short period of time.
Gay Degani is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She’s had four flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She blogs at Words in Place.
Kathy Fish and I are thrilled that Chris Bowen will be joining us in August for our first flash fiction retreat! This will be Chris’ second time coming to Colorado; I hosted him at The Fbomb Flash Fiction Festive in 2016. Chris agreed to chat with me beforehand about writing and playing and daydreaming…
Nancy: The biggest challenge most writers (that I know) have is finding the time to write amidst the daily demands of life. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?
Chris: I’ve honestly found it kinda difficult lately, Nancy. There are a number of tools I sometimes use, however, like meditation. Things like modern and eclectic folk music playlists, audiobooks, or inspirational movie or lecture tracks that I carry on my phone and play at home and in the car, often repeating them. This is meant to relax. Long drives in the car have the same effect. I’m able to reflect on how I consider my life to be in those moments. These are the things that carry me away where I can creatively think about my future in a positive light.
Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? Where can we read it?
Chris: Probably the one I’m most proud of as a whole, at least right now, is the novella I wrote a few years ago, When I Return to You I Will Be Unfed, that can be found on my author blog or Goodreads. It was my second book and even though my first, a chapbook of flash, worked really well with theme and mood, I still find myself rereading the novella the way I do other authors, poets, or books from time to time.
A close second is the short, “The Farmers of Shangri-La”, which was picked up at Stirring a long time ago and also ran in an interview I did with Gay Degani. It talks about rural Midwestern life and family.
Nancy: You are also a professional chef (and will be feeding us during our Breckenridge retreat)! What’s it like to be a chef? Does your work in the kitchen ever spill over onto the page or are they separate endeavors?
Chris: Being a chef can be intense, no matter what kind of kitchen you’re in. My physician father sometimes compares it to being in an emergency room with how I’ve described my workdays.
I was lucky enough to sign on with a major national food service corporation in the last couple years. The income and consistency of my employer’s expectations were a relief of stress in many ways, but have also brought on a new level of commitment I’m not quite sure I’m comfortable with yet. I believe my writing is the opposite of these things. It’s unexpected, surprising, volatile to me. It can come at any time and it can be whatever it wants to be. I sometimes wonder if the kitchen is really where I’m meant to be for the majority of my life when I catch myself daydreaming like that.
Nancy: React to this quote by Carl Jung– “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”
Chris: That reminds me of a non-fiction book I read once about comedy as survival and play ethic. I think the root of the book was the endurance of being light-hearted throughout life. I think spontaneity, being adventurous and curious are all parts of a well-lived life and having that is extremely important to me as a person.
Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Chris: I once read Dr. Seuss at a literary reading.
Nancy: Anything else you want to add?
Chris: I’m honored to be a part of the retreat, Nancy. I really am. I often cook, serve and feed people that I don’t know, people whom I’m not sure make an impact or sometimes are even grateful themselves for the laboring. A chance to do this for you and Kathy, for other writers, gives me meaning in that work.
Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction, Debt. He’s an acting intern for Sundress Publication’s CookBook and has traveled and spoken throughout the U.S.