A little about Donna:
Donna Marie (Pitino) Merritt taught for 14 years and was a columnist for Teaching K-8 magazine. Donna is the author of three poetry books: What’s Wrong with Ordinary? Poems to Celebrate Life (2012); Cancer, A Caregiver’s View (2011); and Job Loss, A Journey in Poetry (2010), all from Avalon Press (http://avalonpress.co.uk). Her poetry has also appeared in magazines, school reading programs, American Library Association’s Book Links, and in Dear One: A Tribute to Lee Bennett Hopkins, an anthology from the National Council of Teachers of English. In addition, she has published extensively for children, including 15 award-winning math and science books, with over 120,000 books sold. For more, visit her site at www.DonnaMarieBooks.com.
Donna is married to her soul mate, has two grown daughters, one grown stepson, and lives in Connecticut, continuing to find her way as a poet.
1. Why is creativity important to you?
When I was eight, I wrote my first poem, and at ten I submitted my first children’s book to a publisher (which, oddly enough, they turned down…). Creativity was important to me even before I understood why. I’m always writing something in my head. Putting my ideas down on paper turns the chaos swirling around my mind into something tangible I can handle.
Yet, it was many years after that first poem before I began writing professionally. I left a career in teaching because I felt there were two important things missing in my life: time with my children and writing. At first, I focused on writing and editing for the education market because that was steady work and my background was in the classroom. But two years ago the grant money dried up for the editing position I had acquired (it was a nonprofit organization) and I found myself unexpectedly unemployed. Two months later, my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The emotions of both events overwhelmed me and I instinctively picked up a pencil and vented through poetry.
In addition to providing a calming balm and giving my feelings a place to “land,” I discovered how much I missed writing poems. I found a publisher who believes in my work and thinks that not only will people enjoy the poetry, but that the poems will offer hope to those facing difficult situations. My work has meaning, and that’s huge for me. It gives my life that sense of purpose I crave.
2. What do you enjoy the most?
While I still have my hand in children’s publishing (I have a book due out next year), I am drawn more and more to writing poetry for adults. There are separate processes involved and although I enjoy the challenge of writing for children (and believe me, it’s demanding to write for such a deserving audience!), right now I love my label of poet and recently gave my first reading. It’s quite a different experience when compared to presenting to children at schools and libraries. With the kids, I almost feel like a performer, like I’m “on” and have to be energetic, do crowd control, etc. Reading my poetry is more of putting myself out there, letting people see deeper into who I am.
3. Do you have any fears when creating?
My fear is always that the last thing I write WILL be the last thing I write, that my creative juices will dry up. I’m thrilled when another poem comes together and feel blessed that at least I wrote one more! Beyond that, I worry that financially I will need to find full-time work again and that will cut into this wonderful writing road I’m traveling.
4. Are your family & friends supportive of the things you create?
Absolutely. My daughters and stepson are all creative (art, poetry, music…), so they know what it’s like to have thoughts interrupted and are good about giving me space and time when I’m working. My husband encourages me at every turn, celebrating success or cheering me up when the rejections roll in. Whatever happens, he’s there. (By the way, this incredible spouse of mine has been cancer-free for over a year!) Other family members have attended book launches and presentations, and I have an extensive group of people in the publishing world on Facebook (authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers—it’s awesome), so that’s another place of support for me.
5. How do you find time to create?
I treat it as the job that it is. I meditate in the morning, take care of house stuff (laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, and so on), answer business e-mail, and then I begin my writing day. I work for a few hours, have lunch, and then read in the afternoon (reading is as important as writing). Then I might spend more time writing before having dinner with my family. Because I work for myself, though, I can be flexible, which is fabulous. For example, I can help move my daughters into their college dorms or go out for breakfast with my husband, and carve out other hours during the day to write.
Words of inspiration to creative chicks:
If you want to write, do it! Begin by reading everything you can, all genres, and find out why certain work moves you. What has the writer done that makes the piece memorable? What writing techniques are being employed? Attend conferences. Join a critique group. Above all, write. Most likely much of what you write, especially in the beginning, will be crap. I have enough rejection slips to wallpaper my house. The key is persistence. There are talented writers who give up too soon. It takes a tough skin and a great deal of dedication to your craft.
Or perhaps you are not interested in getting your work published and that’s fine, too. Keeping a journal is an exercise that satisfies the need to create for many people. Maybe you’d like to be in charge of writing the PTO newsletter or church bulletin. Writing birthday poems for friends and family might scratch that itch. As a mom, I have been writing down significant or funny things my children have done since they were young. When they graduate college, I plan to give them these keepsakes.
My point is that there is no right or wrong approach. Find what YOU enjoy and do it!