Come see me at Insta.
Today I’m pleased to introduce you to Michelle Templeton, a visual artist and writer living in Seattle. In the studio, she paints and makes woodblock prints. At the keyboard she writes fictions and is at work on a novel. She has exhibited work in a variety of Seattle venues in both group and solo exhibits. Her literary work has appeared in Firefly Magazine, Lunch Ticket and Helen: A Literary Magazine (forthcoming). See more of Michelle’s work at www.michelletempleton.com.
SM: Please introduce yourself and your family.
MT: I am a visual artist and writer in Seattle. I live north of the city in a woodsy spot with my husband and ten-year-old son.
SM: Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
MT: I paint in acrylics and mixed media on canvas and paper. I also make woodblock prints, carving images into wood and printing the image on paper with ink. The themes of my visual art center around the world of childhood and family life. I like taking small moments that might not seem meaningful at the time and capturing them on canvas to tell their story.
I am also a fiction writer. I just completed an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. I’ve had a few stories published and I’m working on a novel. The novel is the story of three generations of women from the same family; their struggles and successes. It’s about grief and learning how to make your own life.
SM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
MT: For a long time, I believed I had to sell lots of work to be successful. It’s very gratifying to sell work and have that validation but I’ve learned that the real success is being able to spend my days doing work I love. That’s a luxury many people don’t have and I feel really fortunate to do it.
SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
MT: Motherhood taught me to make every minute in the studio count. It feels like I never have enough time there so when I do have a block of time to work, I make it matter. I have no internet in my studio; nothing to distract me from working. When I’m there, I’m intensely focused. I’ve learned that it’s the only way to get things done when you don’t have the luxury of unlimited time.
SM: Where do you do your creative work?
MT: I have a studio away from home, about a ten-minute drive from my house. When my son was a baby I worked at home but there were a lot of distractions. It’s so easy to stop working to do a load of laundry, clean house, waste time on the internet. What I love about my studio is that it is my safe, distraction-free place. No kids, no household chores, no internet. It’s a place dedicated entirely to my creative work.
SM: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
MT: This question made me smile. I try hard to have a schedule but my son’s schedule is my top priority. I schedule blocks of work time for myself during his school hours, but I also have to balance that time with time spent on my bread-and-butter job. It’s a challenge, and that’s not including the days my son has no school, gets sick, or has a dentist appointment. It’s not easy; flexibility is a requirement.
SM: What does creative success mean to you?
MT: My primary definition of success is that I get to spend my time making art and writing fiction. Having said that, sharing my work is important to me too. It’s deeply gratifying when someone loves one of my pieces enough to spend their money on it; to make space for it in their home.
SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
MT: My son’s happiness. It’s important to me, of course, that he does well in school, that he learns what he needs to know to become a successful and contributing adult. My bottom line, though, is that I want him to feel loved and to enjoy his life.
SM: What do you struggle with most?
MT: Never feeling like I have enough time. Doing the multi-tasking mom-thing makes it a challenge to have long, uninterrupted blocks of time for my work. It can get frustrating at times.
SM: What inspires you?
MT: Other women. They are managing careers and full family lives and making it work. Everyone is working so hard and with incredible grace.
SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
MT: By then my son will be in college and I think my daily schedule will have opened up. I look forward to having more sustained work time.
SM: What are you reading right now?
MT: All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. I’m only about 75 pages in but it’s wonderful so far.
SM: What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?
MT: I love art supply websites like Daniel Smith and Blick’s. It’s fun to drool over all the fabulous paints and tools. I also love writerly sites like poets.org, Brain Pickings, and Lit Hub. My steady go-to is Facebook where I’ve built a strong network of other artists and writers.
SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
MT: Feel the fear and do it anyway! For a long time, I felt I had to feel ready (unafraid) to jump into a creative life. Eventually I realized that there is no such thing as feeling ready so you have to take the plunge in spite of the fear.
SM: What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
MT: Persist! Even if you have tiny children and you can only manage ten minutes a day of creative time, keep going. Whatever you are able to do will be enough to keep the spark alive inside of you. Don’t give up.
Cathy Yardley is an author, mother, and the brains behind Rock Your Writing, a terrific online resource for novelists. Cathy’s ebooks and audiobooks — Rock Your Plot, Rock Your Revisions, Rock Your Query, and Write Every Day — are full of accessible, well-grounded strategies. While Cathy’s focus is genre fiction, writers across the board will benefit from her advice. (I keep the audio versions of Rock Your Plot and Write Every Day in my Audible app for frequent hits of inspiration.) Writers among the Studio Mothers audience will appreciate the article in Cathy’s latest newsletter, which is reprinted below, with Cathy’s generous permission. Enjoy!
Suddenly, getting up at 5:00 am every morning to bang out a few pages isn’t as enticing as staying under your warm covers. You’ll do the pages at night, you promise yourself, tapping the snooze button.
But you have a hell of a time at the day job, you find out your son’s book report is actually due tomorrow and he hasn’t started, you’re out of dog food, and you’ve got no idea what you’re making for dinner.
By the time everyone who needs to be is fed and in bed, it’s nearly 11:00, you’ve got all the energy of a dead car battery, and your creativity resembles a fossilized raisin.
Next thing you know, you rationalize: I’ll just double the pages I write tomorrow.
After “doubling” to the point where you’d need to write 20 pages in one day to catch up, you find yourself passively or actively avoiding writing altogether.
You’ve fallen off the writing wagon — and you’re not quite sure how to get back on.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” — Helmuth von Moltke
If this sounds familiar, fear not. You are in good company (to the tune of 95% of the writers I know). If you want to get back on track (and stay there), here are some tips that might help:
The first way to “pull out of the spin” is to simply do something. Write a page, or 250 words. It’s relatively small, but it’s also substantial. (In 400 days, a series of 250 words turns into a 100K word draft!)
If you can’t do 250 words, do 100. If you can’t do that, write a paragraph. But do something small, and then celebrate that accomplishment.
That may seem ridiculous, but you’re not doing this for the milestone. You’re doing this to start re-training your brain to think “action, momentum, result, reward.” Not “disappointment, exhaustion, discouragement, aversion.”
The word “mindful” gets kicked around a lot, and can seem awfully Zen and mystic. It isn’t. It’s just another way of saying “pay really close attention without being judgmental.” In other words, instead of beating yourself up for not writing (which will drain your energy), just go “Huh. So that didn’t work. What happened instead?”
Again: no judgment. It won’t help you. There isn’t even an inherent benefit to it. It’s not like the world will think you’re a better person because you felt guilty.
Just the facts. You didn’t write. As I explain in my ebook Write Every Day, it’s usually a time issue, an energy issue, a fear issue, or a process issue. Be a detective. Determine what the issue is (or issues, plural) and then create an action plan to address it and keep moving.
There are a few different kinds of support.
You can have critique support. One benefit to this: actually showing someone your work, which in turn encourages you to complete and hand something off. Hopefully, you will also receive valuable input and hone your writing skills, as well.
You can have accountability support. You don’t need a writer for this. This is just someone you tell your goal to, someone you report in with on a weekly basis, to make sure you’re staying on track. If you need a boot camp-styled “drill instructor” or a “loving supportive mentor,” match your personal motivating style. The wrong mix (you need gentle, comforting motivation, and you’ve got somebody yelling on your voice mail “WHERE ARE THOSE PAGES?”) will actually derail you faster.
You can have mentoring support. That can be check in with a coach, or taking a class.
Finally, you can have emotional support. Going to writing groups where you actually feel energized because people are talking shop, may be an option. Or simply connecting with a group of other people who are pursuing big goals and who are cheering each other on might be helpful.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a combination of several kinds of support in the same person. However it works, it’s very difficult to accomplish your writing goals without support of some kind.
Forty Places to Find a Critique Partner
I’ve written a guest post over on The Write Life called “Forty Places to Find a Critique Partner Who Will Help Improve Your Writing.” It’s a hefty article, but if you’re looking for critiques, accountability, or even mentors, the list might have just what you’re looking for.
How to you plan to achieve your writing goals this year?
If you’re coming to the end of NaNoWriMo or any other herculean creative work this month, a big hug and kiss to you! (From Ryan Gosling, of course.)
Really, is it possible to see too much of Ryan Gosling during NaNoWriMo? (Rhetorical question, natch.)
Ryan Gosling FTW, whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, I say!
NaNoWriMo means no editing! Just writing! Remember, you can take care of revisions during NaNoEdMo (March) if you need to 😉
A big salute to everyone who’s embarking on NaNoWriMo today. Woohoo!
You already know about my thing for vampires. But lately, I’ve been feeling more like Dr. Frankenstein.
You know that scene where the doctor’s monster comes to life and he says, “It’s alive!!!”? Well, that’s me.
I’ve created a monster, too.
I want to go on record again as saying that I had no intention whatsoever of starting another novel. I packed up my previously finished novel into a bin in the attic and decided I just wasn’t going to fool with writing and publishing right now. I was going to be a mommy, and mommy my heart out. It was much too hard to balance writing and motherhood, and darn it, I wasn’t playing anymore. I was packing up my toys and going home.
And then one day in the mini-van, while I was trying to block out the ever-present Wiggles, this character appeared in my head, and then this other character appeared, and suddenly this plot was unraveling, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, yeah…that’s nice. Now shut up.” But they wouldn’t shut up. So I thought, “Well, there’s no harm in writing the idea down…” So I wrote the idea down. And then I started thinking of scenes to write. And I said to myself, “The boys are napping. I have a few minutes. There’s no harm in writing them down…” And I wrote them down. Soon I had so many scenes written that I thought, “I really ought to put these in order.” I put them in order. Then I thought of stuff to write between the scenes. And things to research. And people to interview… And then yesterday, I finished my novel.
Imagine my surprise.
Now, when I say finished, I don’t mean finished. It’s a mess. It’s a monster made up of a skeleton (with lots of vertebra missing), loosely held together by some scraps of muscle and tissue, and, if they ever saw it, mobs of editors and publishers would run it right out of town with flames and pitchforks.
However, it does have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The characters (and their relationship) make sense. Their story is interesting. And, even better still, I’ve written the story I wanted to write.
This was not the case with my previous novel, or any other story I’ve written before.
I used to subscribe to the choose-you-own-adventure method of novel plotting, as well as the write-the-entire-story-chronologically-and-if-you-get-stuck-stare-at-a-blank-screen-and-blinking-cursor-indefinitely method of composition. And that got me nowhere.
I was like that idiot girl in the horror movie who stumbles blindly into the dark basement where the monster is lurking. Or, to continue my monster metaphor ad nauseum, it was like slowly unwrapping a mummy (a stinky undead dude with a bad attitude), but hoping that it was really Brad Pitt under a lot of gift-wrapping. It’s obvious now why writing was so frustrating for me.
I needed to get to know my monsters. (Or, as people who aren’t beating a metaphor to death would say, I needed to abandon any preconceived notions I had about writing and try something scary and unpredictable.)
What’s funny about this is that people who know me would say “scary and predictable” aren’t words in my vocabulary. I am probably the most risk-averse person I know. I am so type-A, that in new situations, I actually plot out several different scenarios so that I’m prepared to deal with every impending uncertainty at any given moment.
Just based on my personality, I should be the extensive-outlining type. I am the *last* person that non-linear anything should work for.
But in a few short months, I have written the framework of a novel that has real potential. And that framework supports my desire to be present for the boys and mother them but still write when I can.
It’s such a great feeling, it’s scary.