Michelle Jayne is a post-middle-aged, middle class, middle manager of average height and IQ. She is a US Army veteran and introverted community activist. She has a useless degree in Soviet and East European Studies and only the M of her M.A. in Russian Linguistics, because she kept falling asleep during class and decided taking expensive naps was a bad idea. She lives in a suburb of Minneapolis with her husband, daughter, and squirrels that she names and now counts as friends of the pandemic. Currently, she is an MFA student, hoping to earn all 3 degree letters this time around. Michelle teaches workshops on Self-Care for Creative People and How to Create a Writing Practice, while also facilitating writing groups. Her current work-in-progress is Property Lines, a novel, and she writes for her blog, The Green Study.
If you haven't done so already, check out Michelle's award-winning story "Castings" and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Fall 2021 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?
Michelle: This story came out of a writing prompt contest, so it was written and edited under pressure. I was supposed to write a fantasy story involving a vegetable garden and soap. As a gardener and nature observer, I always thought it funny that the good soil created by worms is called castings. The idea of casting away anything we don’t need, while creating something better, appeals to me in writing and in life.
WOW: A perfect title and metaphor! What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?
Michelle: This story is different from what I typically write. I tend to write claustrophobic suburban stories or stories about the alchemy between characters. The feedback from my writing group and peers surprised me, because I saw it as a silly one-off. It has encouraged me to experiment more, to see what emerges.
WOW: It’s amazing how even a little bit of encouragement from peers and writing buddies can lead to new and experimental writing. Please tell us more about your workshops on Self-Care for Creative People. How did you identify a need for this workshop, and are you willing to share any self-care tips with us?
Michelle: I started out teaching beginning writing craft workshops, but wasn’t getting anywhere with my own writing. I wanted to explore what was going on and how to deal with it. A lot of people are struggling right now with anxiety, whether it be the pandemic or the political discourse or just life under strained circumstances. Creative people, who are accustomed to viewing the world in details, find themselves overwhelmed and paralyzed by the weight of information. They berate themselves for not being more productive or question what it is they should really be creating and if it even matters.
Self-care gets a bit of a bad rap because it is often conflated with privileged self-indulgence. True self-care means honoring your vulnerability and responding to that with compassion. The basics are sleep, hydration, nutrition, and movement. Beyond that, making space for creativity, letting go of expectations, and adapting to our circumstances, energy levels, and environment. Improvement and progress often take place at the margins – slight shifts in habit, doing one thing when we feel like doing nothing, looking at a situation and trying to find a small action to improve it. And then most of all, being forgiving and gentle with ourselves, like we would a good friend.
WOW: I love and appreciate this definition and explanation of self-care and the lens you put on it for creative people. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?
Michelle: I tend to bounce between 4-5 works at a time. I’m finishing Brit Bennet’s The Vanishing Half (such a good storyteller!). I’m doing research for my current novel on immigration and have started Susan Sniader Lanser’s Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice. I’m interested in literary theory not grounded in traditional white, male literary canon.
WOW: Nice, diverse selection! If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?
Michelle: There are a lot of things that seem like writing – classes, conferences, how-to books, workshops – but only writing is writing. It’s important not to conflate things that are about writing with the actual work of writing.
WOW: That is excellent advice, and something that I needed to hear right now! Anything else you’d like to add?
Michelle: Thank you for this opportunity to participate. It has given me a little boost of encouragement in the middle of a Minnesota winter!
WOW: Thank you so much for participating and for these thoughtful responses! Happy writing!