Welcome new Writers’ Program instructor Heather Scott Partington! Heather is teaching Writing the Review (Reg# 388537) in our asynchronous, deadline-driven online format starting Wednesday, September 28 this Fall. She sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and her upcoming course.

What sparks your creativity?
Uninterrupted time alone. And Music. Before I was a writer I was a dancer, so I’m incredibly moved by sound. When I write I usually listen to movie scores or something without words. I don’t pay attention to the music so much as use it to drive my fingers across a keyboard. It helps me ignore the rest of the world. When I need to write quickly, I’ll put on something with more BPM. Does that sound crazy? Yes. But it works for me. And nothing creative happens without the ability to sit in a room alone. It’s a privilege, but I fight hard to protect that time. I have to put it on my calendar and I have to find the space independent of the rest of my life, the other things that need doing and hearing.

What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
This correlates to what I wrote above and it’s not a cool answer, but I rely on my calendar. It’s my memory and it’s the way I don’t forget to show up for the things and people that matter to me. During grad school I had a very basic but very important revelation about my life– if I was going to be a book critic, I needed to act like it. I needed to make myself read and write all the time. Building my career almost never happens on those brilliant, easy days. It happens when life is messy.
Relying on my calendar doesn’t mean a daily word count but it does mean a certain time that I show up in my office on a reasonable schedule–and keep giving my brain to literature. I don’t require myself to produce something every day. I require that I show up. Sometimes all I can do is stare at the wall, or plan what I’m going to do the next time I show up. Sometimes I miss an appointment with myself, so I reschedule. But it’s all in service of the goal of a life in criticism, even the sitting and doing nothing. I am fascinated by how people get things done, and I know that this doesn’t work for everybody. But there was magic for me in figuring out me.

What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
My favorite books are my touchstones: the books that were in my brain during moments of change or discovery. Probably the most important book in this regard has been Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams. I read it in English class at age 18 and it unlocked something for me about how an author could use structure and point of view to mirror plot. It’s also one of my earlier memories of learning to wrestle with a text. I read it about 5 years later after miscarrying my first pregnancy, and I recognized my most private thoughts about loss on the page. It was my first experience with a transformational re-read, and the idea that our experiences change our interpretation. Eventually, I spent about a decade teaching Animal Dreams to high schoolers and realized that novels can be imperfect. But it’s okay to love them anyway. 

What’s your favorite quote about writing?
My favorite quote about writing is actually a quote about reading and writing, and it comes from another of my touchstones: John Leonard’s posthumously collected book reviews in Reading for My Life. It’s the book that made me realize that I wanted to be a critic. In the introduction, E.L Doctorow writes, “[E]very piece of literary criticism rewrites the text that it examines. Less dogmatically expressed, this is the idea that a work is not completed until the reader animates the text, as if the lines of a novel are a printed circuit through which the force of the reader’s own life will flow.”

What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
A critic has to consider that any work under discussion is someone else’s life’s work. It’s a glorious privilege to consider it carefully. I take that very seriously, and I want to help people feel like they’re capable of doing that too. I’m excited to help people discover their authority. We’re all qualified to be critics, as long as we are thoughtful readers or consumers of media, art, and experience.

What do you hope your students get from your course(s)?
I hope my students leave with a toolbox full of strategies, and a folder full of examples. I hope that they each feel empowered to create their own niche in the critical world and to examine how other critics have done the same. There is so much room for each of us to write about the books we read. I also hope that my students feel like the world of criticism has been demystified. It’s a weird, lonely, secretive world. But I’m willing to spill the beans to anyone who will listen.

Thank you to Heather for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!

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