Today I am featuring historian and author, Suzanne Desrochers, who also happens to be my cousin-in-law. Her book, Bride of New France: A Novel, became a national bestseller. I am very grateful she took the time to answer my questions and share her thoughts on creativity as a writer and as a mother.
I am the mom of two kids, aged 3 and 6. I recently completed a teaching degree and my hope is to be able to teach part-time while continuing to write. I wrote a historical novel entitled “Bride of New France”, inspired by wanting to know more about the French-Canadian women in my lineage, which was published by Penguin in 2011. Much to my delight and amazement, my first novel became a national bestseller. I am currently working on a second book for Penguin.
Do you have a creative routine? What is it?
Routine… bahaha 🙂 I used to have a creative routine, pre-children. It was very simple. It consisted of writing first thing in the morning, before opening email, tackling laundry (oh wait, I didn’t really have laundry then!), or doing any research. I simply started writing from where I was that day (how I was feeling, usually related to how I had slept) and then going from there until I was speaking in the voice of the fictional characters I was working on. I love writing, but I have never found it to be an easy thing to do. So I would give myself goals, in word counts, before I let myself off the hook so I could enjoy the rest of the day in the library, wandering down the street, or shopping for dinner supplies (Ah, back when dining was a thing).
Since having children, I don’t write nearly as much. This is partly because they demand so very much and I don’t have a whole lot left over once they’re done with me. But it has also been a conscious decision to put everything aside to enjoy these early years. I can write when I’m older but I won’t have my babies then.
How do you express creativity in different aspects of your life?
I think mainly through the people that I have around me, and nurturing those relationships. My greatest inspirations are my husband and my friends who take all sorts of creative and political risks. I also love collecting interesting clothes and home decor, things that have a story to tell, objects that have been places. My creativity is eclectic and sporadic. Although, I’m also quite a minimalist and I often fantasize about living in a monastery on a mountain with 3 or 4 possessions. Having too many possessions tires me out because of all the maintenance they require.
What do you do when you are in a creative rut? What emotions are associated with it?
I don’t worry about it too much. In fact, sometimes I’m relieved. Because my creative expression is writing, usually about feelings and intense human experience, it can be nice to have a break to just live like a normal person who isn’t obsessed with all these profound things.
Having said that, a tour through an art gallery, a walk through a new neighbourhood, or reading an inspirational book or quote always seems to spark me to get writing again.
Where do you get your creative inspiration?
From God/the Self/the Universe. It really is my way of communing with the Divine.
What is your earliest creative memory?
Probably the poetry I read and wrote as a tween. Even when I was a kid, words had a big impact on me. I would flip through reading anthologies and rewrite the poems that were in them in notebooks that I kept. I felt very different because of this, but I actually had a friend who would call me and ask if I had written a new poem because she wanted to hear it.
Describe your creative process? Any successes or failures from your own perspective? Why did you see them as such?
I’m not sure I have much of a creative process anymore. I just write whenever I have the time, even if it’s just for a few minutes, or on a store receipt while sitting in the car. I think I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve had quite a lot of success. The only thing I would have done differently in retrospect was to take more creative writing courses (I took some) and not to worry so much about trying to have a side career. I’m pretty much done with the side training now, though, and ready to fully embrace the writing life.
General thoughts on creativity?
I would say that if someone is not feeling creative, then something is wrong. There is a lot of repressed creative energy in this world and it would be such a better place if people allowed their creative expression to heal them. The vulnerability of being creative, of taking the time to do something that is not for money or glory or anything other than celebrating the sheer beauty of you and of life is a frightening thing for most of us. There is always something more practical to be doing. I went through a long phase, after the birth of my children, wherein I thought practicality was everything. I’m coming out of that now and realizing that it is the creative and creating me that is the most alive and the greatest gift that I can offer my kids.
I don’t know that my writing has practical applications the way some other forms of creative expression might. But for me, writing solves my inner problems, which frees me up to be a sane and functioning person.
Can you share a creative prompt?
Julia Cameron’s morning pages are the best for writers, I think. The idea is simple. Get a notebook and a pen, and, each morning, while the haze of the dream world is still upon you, write freely and without lifting your pen whatever comes to mind for two pages worth. Do this every day and your life will change.
Thanks again Suzanne!
Today, try to write freely for 15 minutes. Write it all down. Write whatever pops into your head even if it’s “I don’t know what to write.” It’s like recording a stream of consciousness and it may be a little incoherent. You may even write point form. But just take 15 minutes and write without trying to control what goes down on the paper. Keep it unfiltered and as uncensored as possible. You will burn this page afterwards. This is key. You have to remain completely honest with what is going through your head at this very moment.
Write freely. Then destroy the pages.
Yesterday morning, I woke up at 4am to write. Before I began my morning pages, I searched for my black moleskine notebook where I keep all my notes for homeschooling, writing, and creative inspiration. I keep it beside me as I write my morning pages in my other moleskine notebook because I often get thoughts that I’d like to write down in my inspiration/planning notebook. Anyway, the book was nowhere to be found. I needed this notebook for yesterday’s creative prompt. It contained all my notes and I was drawing a complete blank. I turned the house upside down and interrogated my husband. I finally let it go and sat to write my morning pages. It was a panicky voice in the beginning – a lot of “I don’t know what to do” and “I have no idea what to write today for mayBE” and “GAH!!!” (By the way, that’s the g-rated version.)
Then halfway through my pages, I began to write this:
This is out of my control. Figure it out. Figure out something. Just draw what you see. I see my mug. That Milton Glaser quote I just read! Paying attention. Drawing is thinking. Take a simple form. Like my mug or a cup. Yes.
And that’s how mayBE: eight came to light.
In my morning pages, I am confronted with the truth. Questions are answered. Feelings are exposed. The uncomfortable issues lay bare for me to see and to deal with. Wounds healed. Patterns recognized and adjusted. Touching the divine even for a split second.
Yesterday was nothing. There have been things that have been revealed that can only be described as miracles.
Today, go for it. The complete mind dump. And maybe do it each day as soon as you wake up. Trust me. Let go and write the good, the bad, and the most horrific thoughts. You may be surprised at what you might find.
(And no one is allowed to come near this book. In fact, my dear friend has very specific instructions on how to destroy it should anything happen to me…)
You can leave a comment below or join my top secret life explorers group on Facebook if you want to share any discoveries or explorations. Friend me and I will send you an invite! You can share your thoughts or your creative expressions there. You can also post on Instagram using #may_BE2015