Terrie Leigh Relf: What are your daily writing and creative rituals? How do you prepare your space for these activities?
Ceara N. Finchel: I try to have a loose schedule with what projects I want to work on for the day, giving myself usually about an hour to work as much as I can in that time or longer, depending on how large the project is. If I’m on an inspirational marathon, I’ll work on it for longer periods of time until I’m satisfied with my progress or until completion (this usually applies to poems or short stories). Since I don’t have an actual desk at the moment, I work on my bed. It’s a queen-sized bed with lots of pillows for me to lean back against, and I have everything I need within arm’s reach – like my laptop or any of my notebooks, pens, or books.
TLR: Do you have a “day job” in addition to being a writer? If so, what (if any) challenges do you face? How do you rise to those challenges?
CNF: Technically, I have two day jobs – if you count college student as one along with my job working in a mortgage office. As much as I enjoy them both, they can burn me out by the end of the day with a lot of stress and the workload. And because of that, trying to sneak in a little writing during the day makes it difficult, too – even when things are easy-going, which requires thinking outside the box. One benefit of working in the mortgage business is the tremendous amount of names that pass by. When I see a name that catches my interest, I write it down on a sticky note to use for later, or figure out how to mix up the name a little. My job sometimes requires me to talk to people, so I use those moments as references for writing, seeing where else I can apply this material to similar situations. Even when I’m not working on the writing I want to, I’m still doing small writing practices.
TLR: Describe a recent writing and/or creative session in detail. How long was it? What activities did you perform? What did you accomplish and so forth?
CNF: The time I like to work is at night, when my brain kind of kick starts back up again. The novel I’m writing is being handwritten, so the notebook is always close by. I have a second notebook for the novel, which has the outline, rough sketches of maps and other visuals, and other details I wanted in one place. I was going through the outline notebook at first, then the actual novel book for about five minutes, thinking about what to do next before I could continue. When it came to me, I started writing and didn’t stop for some time. As I’ve been working on the novel, I can see where I have strayed from the outline that connected better to the parts of the outline I stuck to. I realized that this was how it was going to be for the entire time, but it was reassuring to know the outline was going to be my GPS on where to go next, while allowing detours. In the end, I made more progress that I was pleased with, and felt satisfaction knowing I’m getting that much closer to finishing my novel.
TLR: What tips do you have for other writers? This could be anything from a time-management strategy to an inspirational quote.
CNF: I like to give advice based on another writer/artist situation. The most common piece I like to give is to finish what you started – no matter what. This is because over time, I have found that the only times I felt like I could call myself a writer was when looking at the things I finished and knew what struggles it took to finish them. It’s also important to remember that while we have our ups and downs, to never close yourself off to anything that can inspire you. Because it’s those moments that can bring you back into your craft.
TLR: Is there anything else about your creative process that you would like to share?
CNF: Mine’s not that much different from everyone else’s, but I notice not many people have methods for writing therapy (i.e., those times when you need reassurance that you think you made a mistake at being a writer). Things needed to settle our fears and insecurities. As a rule, I like to keep two books on hand: This is Not a Writing Manual by Kerri Majors and Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. Kerri Majors’ book is more about life advice for writers, and has been a wonderful inspiration to help me figure out where I want to go with my writing. It’s the first book I dared to highlight, write in, and place tabs for what lines I needed to read for whichever downing thought was going through my head. Anyone who has ever read a Chicken Soup book has found happy tears and good feels; this one is no exception.
TLR: Thank you for participating in this interview series, Ceara. We also have a special treat from you in the form of a short fiction piece titled, “Walk.” Thank you for sharing this here.
By Ceara N. Finchel
It’s the same every year.
I never forgot the promise. I promised to go to the southern lands when autumn slipped into winter. Packing necessities needed for a month on the road, wrapping the red sash around my head, and going with your redwood walking stick became annual rituals. The sheep would be fine without me for a while, and my four-legged friend with his salt and pepper fur didn’t like staying at home alone. We never left without ensuring our home was protected during the winter.
So I began to walk.
I leaned on your walking stick when I followed your instructions, reminding myself every moment I could. I walked from morning until dusk, resting when I needed breath, and on occasion— on chillier, windy days— I climbed into the back of a merchant’s wagon. But never did I forget to listen, watch the clouds, and I never said a word for the whole month. You taught me that I could speak with my eyes and smile with my heart. You told me I had pretty eyes. People would notice a mute girl and a dog traveling simply passing by. We slept under the stars or at an inn by night, then left by early morning; just like you instructed me to, and I always remembered your instructions.
I kept walking.
There was never any trouble. I’ve never been attacked or approached by anybody who might have meant harm. That’s because you protected me with your spirit, just as you promised after you were gone. Every year you made sure I reached the places I went and returned home safely. We didn’t need to talk to each other, but I knew you were there, always there.
You never left me.
For a single month I walked to relearn everything you taught me. Each step cleansed my wounds and rid me of the demons that haunted me. I let the world around me heal those horrible wounds. Using that energy to harvest inner peace when the days without you hurt so much, I walked through the autumn cold tethered to the memory; you weren’t there to keep my heart from freezing over. Alone, with just my dog to bring me back when I wandered too far, I had to remember to look at what you left for me. The things to hold in my hand and remember what you told me so long ago. I never forget a single word.
I could never forget.
When I finally reached the place of golden wheat and blue skies, a warmer place than home, I had only a short distance to travel. By then, the cold was harsher, ready for the snow to suffocate months of labor. You told me the opposite. Winter gave the earth a chance to sleep. Winter was the one time of the year the land found rest, and I would soon find that same solace. My promise led me to the sea every year. You wanted to be buried on the highest point we knew of, overlooking the ocean.
I heard passing whispers; the villagers remembered me. The girl in red quietly walking to the grave, never failing to arrive near the end of the season, guarded by her dog and something unnatural. She was thought to be something of a spirit herself.
I always arrived at sunset, when the sun began to drown into the ocean. My legs may have well been broken underneath me, forcing me to use your stick to drag my limp body up the cliff where you were laid to rest. You told me not to question why you were taken from me but what your loss would teach me. That was your whole world, your philosophy; you turned my whole life into a lesson.
But every time I pulled myself to your grave, your voice in the memories I kept locked in my heart were left behind like molted feathers. I didn’t want to live with just memories; all that you passed to me. My inheritance meant nothing and I wanted nothing of it because. . .
Because you aren’t here. To live without you was the most painful lesson to learn.
And this time, this year when I arrived, the sunlight was almost gone. It reminded me of you, when the last bit of life crept away, and I had to decide if I wanted to look towards the moon. I was afraid you wouldn’t be there. The night would be echoed by wretchedness and I would water your grave with nothing but my regrets. I came here, again, just to tell you how sorry I am. You were my world and I loved you so much. You taught me to love when I was the embodiment of hate, to protect more than just myself, but what mattered the most to me. And you taught me to laugh with the flowers, smile with the river, and glow with everything that was alive and so, so beautiful.
When I gained the courage to look at the moon, there you were. I remembered the most important lesson you left with me and the reason for returning every year, the last of my inheritance. When there was nothing left in me, you gave me all that I would need to stay. You left me with a home, a friend who would someday leave, but who was loyal to the end, and the reassurance that all you knew would not die with just me.
The journey of my life, and all that you knew, was kept safely in the world around us. And it would always be there for the travelers who listened closely enough. My footsteps and your instructions would be their pillars. My song and your words, the comfort when the nightmares kept them awake. They would never truly be alone, not without my love and your undying wisdom.
This remains the tale of everyone who has walked with a destination to reach, and not afraid to lean on the walking stick you left behind.
Ceara N. Finchel is a twenty-one-year-old student living in sunny (and unpredictable) Florida. She spends her days writing and reading, as well as driving everyone around her crazy with her overly cheerful and unlimited energy. When she’s not writing, she loves to spend time on the Internet searching for inspiration, suffering through college homework, and spending paychecks on more books, more pens, and more journals. Stay tuned for her new website!