Padma Venkatraman on Rejuvenating Our Writing Lives

Mar 16, 2022 | Asian American Voices, Inspiration, Minds & Bodies

Spring is a time when, in much of the Northern Hemisphere, we see signs of life emerge from dormancy all around us. The world blossoms with color. Yet, with all that humanity has recently undergone, and with the uncertainty and pain the pandemic has brought us, it can be hard to connect with our creativity.

Over the weekend, I heard from a few writing friends who shared what refreshes them on their writing journeys.

I loved the range encompassed by the responses I received, because they speak to so many different approaches we have to connecting with ourselves and our work:

1. Playfulness. What fun it can be when we adults give ourselves permission to play!

“I like to camp out in the guest room and pretend I’m ‘away.’”Victoria J Coe

2. Honing craft in new ways. Looking for a new challenge can be reinvigorating.

“When I need to jumpstart my writing in a major way, I switch genres. The learning curve is steep, but it keeps me motivated, and I like the challenge. Last year I wrote a picture book biography and co-authored another nonfiction book, and this year I’m working on a chapter book series. Reinventing oneself as a writer is revitalizing.

Writing and walking are connected for me. They nourish and replenish my mind, soul, and heart. I often get ideas as I walk, outlining an entire book or revising a part of a story I’ve been trying to get just right.”Valerie Bolling

3. Physical activity, as Valerie mentions above, and Jennifer mentions below. Some of us might be fond of active exercise, but even if we aren’t, just very gentle, simple physical movement can help refresh our minds.

“I get outside: walking, hiking, cross country skiing in winter, kayaking in summer. There’s nothing like the combination of nature and movement to help me (and my brain) feel more alive again. And even though I’m happy to let thoughts of my book go for a while, I always come home with some new insight that gets me back to the desk, refreshed.”Jennifer Jacobson

4. Getting in touch with nature. I’m almost certain that if I’d reached out to Margarita Engle, one of my favorite authors and people, I would have received a response similar to the last sentence in the quote below, that speaks to how calming and reinvigorating it can be to immerse ourselves in natural beauty.

“When I’m feeling stuck or need a break from the thoughts crashing in my head, I tend to do three things: read, watch movies, or go outside. Sometimes when I read or watch T.V., it’s for pure escape, but more often, I’m reading and watching like a writer–paying attention to how the story unfolds, the characters’ arcs, and how small actions reveal emotions. Being outside on a beautiful day is good for the soul and imagination, especially in spring, summer, or fall–basically when it’s NOT winter in New England.”
Cindy Rodriguez

5. Relaxing. Giving ourselves permission to turn our writer minds off or away from writing is so very necessary for our mental health, whether it’s relaxing in front of the TV, as Cindy mentions above or spending time in meditative asana or visualization (which are my preferred ways).

6. Delving into the deepest reasons we began our writing journeys. It may be re-energizing to contemplate and reconnect with the most fundamental reasons why we write.

“What refreshes or re-centers me is getting back to the reasons why I first connected with a project. Generally it all starts with feelings.”Leah Henderson

7. Centering young people. Allowing ourselves to learn from our “target audience.”
“I would say having conversations with students about what’s important to them helps charge my creativity. Their curiosity and passion helps me dig into what’s important to my characters.”Lisa Stringfellow

“I am inspired and rejuvenated by the heart and honesty of the kids I write for. The kids who bravely share their most vulnerable moments and how the stories I’ve written have helped them along their own journey.”Elly Swartz

8. Celebrating our larger community. Giving back to others through teaching and sharing a sense of fraternity.

As Sarah Aronson shared, “why I love teaching–is the complete dedication to all the things I believe in: craft, community, conviction, and confidence. Whether I am on campus or teaching virtually, this community is like a giant permission slip for curiosity and play. As a writer, I have found my best ideas here. As a teacher, I am proud to help people achieve their dreams. This is a wildly ambitious life we have chosen. But there is room for everyone. For all voices. At The Highlights Foundation, your voice will be heard. You will be welcomed.”

I couldn’t agree more with Sarah, and I can’t wait to welcome others and be welcomed back to The Highlights Foundation again this May, when I’ll be working with an author whose work and personality I love – Chris Tebbetts. We plan to provide writing tips through craft lectures to challenge attendees to try new aspects of craft – and also share non-traditional techniques that go beyond the nitty-gritty of the writing craft while supporting it. I hope there’ll be time during the retreat for us to touch on all 8 of the approaches I’ve listed here!

I know this will reinvigorate, refresh, rejuvenate, reignite and revitalize my creativity!

Thank you to our faculty for this Guest Post!

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