On Creativity: Susan Hill Long

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.


Susan Hill LongSusan Hill Long writes:

So much clanging and bellowing, so much horrible noise. As citizens, we can’t hole up and quit listening. But let’s listen, as well, to the stories of people who have imagined and who continue to imagine a way and a world that makes sense. Ursula K. Le Guin writes, in her essay The Operating Instructions, “Reading is a way of listening.” For lots of us, so is writing. Maybe listening (reading, writing) requires precisely what it seems we can’t afford—solitude, dream-time, head-space, nature, time for thoughts to flow without judgment. Maybe it seems indulgent to while away an hour in dreamy imagining. But imagining is not a small thing. It isn’t frivolous. Le Guin writes, “…the imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human.” I like that a lot. That helps me.

This little note-to-self helps, too. It’s nothing much, the title of a poem. (Doesn’t Mary Oliver often step in to say the exact right thing?) When I saw the words, wherever I saw them, a shy bell chimed in my heart, and so I made a note and Scotch-taped it to my monitor: To be a writer is to have The Chance to Love Everything.

That’s encouragement enough for me. For you, too?


Susan Hill Long

Susan Hill Long is a children’s book author. Her recent books include The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, A Foundling Girl, a Scheming Pig, and a Pickpocket Squirrel, and the middle grade novel Whistle in the Dark, named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. Her awards include Bank Street Best Books, Oregon Book Award—the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature—and the Katherine Paterson Prize. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters.

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