On Creativity: Margi Preus

July 20th, 2017

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

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Margi Preus (Shirleen Hieb Photography)

Margi Preus writes:

Here’s how bad it is: I can barely muster up the wherewithal to write a blog post, much less a novel. I’m just too busy reading the news feed on my phone.

Back when I used to write, I wrote mostly historical fiction. I noticed, as Avi pointed out in a June 8 post in this blog, that there are “many moments in history which echo today’s world.” That’s for sure. If there’s one thing you get confronted by when you write historical fiction is how this has all happened before, and how bad it has been—worse, lots of times. Lots worse. But then you find stories of people who have dug themselves out, have risen like phoenixes from the ashes, or somehow shone a light or shown a way forward. Or who, in spite of everything, just kept valiantly moving forward. One foot in front of the other.

While writing my first novel, Heart of a Samurai, a lot of me was deeply despondent about the Iraq War and some hateful rhetoric of the times. Writing about a friendship between a Japanese boy and an American sea captain might seem far away from that reality, but for me, their friendship—two people from countries deeply antagonistic toward each other–was solace. I was reminded that individuals, one at a time, could steer their way out of antagonism. I was also reminded, every day, that this single friendship helped pave the way for a peaceful resolution to what could have been a deadly encounter between east and west. For me, writing that story became my daily prayer.

Excuse me while I check my news feed.

Okay, I’m back. Where was I? Ah, yes. I guess the only way is forward. I guess the only way, in these backward times, is to lean into the headwind and no matter how much the wind pushes us back, just keep inching forward.

How? I don’t know, but once in awhile, during a slow news moments, I put pen to paper. The movement of the pen—forward—feels positive. The filling of the page feels like something is getting accomplished. Turning the notebook page to the next feels like forward motion. There’s the soft, nonjudgemental whisper of pen on paper. Words are being set down. Witness is being borne. Light is being shone into dark corners. One word in front of the other.

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Margi Preus

Margi Preus is the Newbery Honor winning author of Heart of a Samurai and other books for young readers, including West of the Moon, Enchantment Lake, Shadow on the Mountain, and The Bamboo Sword. Her books have won multiple awards, landed on many “best of” lists, been honored as ALA/ALSC Notables, selected as an NPR Backseat Book Club pick, chosen for community reads, and translated into many languages. The latest, The Clue in the Trees, the second in the Enchantment Lake mystery series, is due out in September.

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