Mairead Willis - MA Creative Writing
How I practice writing
This year I finished a neuroscience degree in Indiana and moved 3500 miles to Cork to pursue a Master’s in Creative Writing. Writing has always been a dream of mine. I took a few fiction electives during my undergraduate studies, but I never had time to focus on developing as a writer. Though I lacked experience, I had a concrete vision of what my year in Cork would look like. I pictured myself sitting in cafés and lounging on hillsides, churning out thousands of words at a time. I drastically overestimated how quickly I would read the books on my self-made reading list. Despite these expectations, learning to write has for me been a process of slowing down rather than speeding up.
It’s a well-worn adage that writing is all about discipline, but writers who say that rarely explain what it means. The discipline I’ve learned over the last four months has been less like doing daily sit-ups and more like yoga. It is a practice of coming to the same place, day after day, and opening myself up a bit more each time. I had to learn to sit in silence and open my notebook no matter what, not to plow through a story, but to listen for the voice that lives somewhere at the bottom of my stomach, saying things I didn’t know I had to say. I learned to ask myself what different leaves looked like as I passed them on the sidewalk. I had never noticed before how many kinds there are: some like shards of flint, some like feathers, some like the palms of hands. One night, I sat in my bedroom, beginning to cry as I listed descriptions of my grandmother, images that have yet to become the poem I meant them to be but have nevertheless changed me for the better.
After a semester studying writing, I don’t read or write quickly. I don’t expect the process I’ve developed to lead to a slew of best-selling detective novels, though a girl can dream. Instead, I’ve gained a more valuable gift. In her poem “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver writes “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention.” This year I, too, have learned to pay attention, and it’s a lesson I’ll never forget.
Picture: A friend (left) and I paying attention to the Kerry coastline after a hailstorm.