with Meaghan Strimas
HLR: How do you schedule time to create?
JR: I work best in long, concentrated chunks, rather than small daily bursts. I have a six year old and a teenager, so the school schedule guides my work time. The best time for me to write is when they are at school. When I start a project, or come to a pivotal point in the writing process, I try and find grants and then I focus really hard for as long as that opportunity allows. I did a writing retreat in Saskatchewan in 2014 with the help of a small travel grant. I got another grant that I stretched into six months of writing.
I try to use the grants for longer, harder tasks, so that when I have to work, I can tackle smaller editing tasks.
HLR: What obstacles (real and imagined) make it a challenge for you to find time to create, and how have you dealt with them?
JR: It’s terrible to think of kids as an obstacle, but they certainly dictate how parents arrange their day. They need everything you can give them, and waiting is not their forte. So what do you do about the writing, the voices in your head, the calling, the anxiety that can come when life gets bumpy and you can’t put the pen to the page? Because writing is important. It’s not just a vocation. It’s my therapy, my friend, my social pulse.
It sounds simple, but I make time to create by ranking my priorities. I fit the important things in first and I squish the less important things in the spaces that remain. Children are important, my husband is important, my faith and my writing are important. My family and friends and giving back are also important. But everything else—work, fitness, entertainment, etc.—has to fit into the spaces that remain. That’s not always easy, and it’s not always clear how to do that. So instead of building a life plan, I take my life in four to six month chunks. I ask myself what are the big important things that need I need to commit to first in that time frame? Sometimes writing fits in and sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t let myself go too long without making writing a priority. It’s hard to write in the summer, for example, because my son is out of school and there’s so much to do. But in the winter, it’s different—fewer commitments, fewer afternoons with friends because of the weather, so writing fits in well there.
A big challenge though is always money. It’s great to have a philosophy of balance and priorities, but how do you take care of business? How do you feed your family? In a partnership, this can be negotiated, and I’m grateful to be able to share the load, but there is still the reality of making a living. You can’t shut out the world and write forever. I recently decided that writing is not a hobby or even a side job. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing. This is an important question for any writer. The answer is hard and the resolution is even harder.
These days, I’m trying to build a career that makes my calling possible. For some, that means making money that creates space/hours to write—teaching college for example. For me, it meant choosing a job that feeds my writing. Starting the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) is important for the industry, and it’s important for me as a writer. I’m creating a space for myself, in a way. But serving as the Artistic Director is also allowing me the opportunity to study the business more closely, to live inside of it and actively take part in shaping it. I have to fundraise, but this feels like the right job for me. Even when it’s hard. I’m working for something bigger than me, something that can support my family (my writing family too) now and in the future.
HLR: Do you find you work better when your schedule is clear, or when you are pressed to find time?
JR: I need to feel relaxed in the process. Rushing takes all the joy out of writing. I love deadlines and I work well with them for tasks like proofreading and grammar or clarity based editing, but in the creating process, I like to have freedom to play with an idea. I always work hard when I write, but I don’t work smart when I feel pressured or time-bound, so it’s important for me to feel like there is space for me to ponder.
Jael Richardson has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her first book, The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, came out in 2012 and was the subject of a TSN documentary. In 2013, the book received a CBC Bookie Award. Richardson received a My People Award that same year, recognizing her as a new and up-and-coming writer. Excerpts from her first play my upside down black face are published in the anthology T-Dot Griots: An Anthology of Toronto’s Black Storytellers. She is the Artistic Director of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), and was one of the TDSB’s 2013-14 Writers-In-Residence. In her free time, she teaches communications at Humber College.