Leigh Hecking is a writer from New Jersey, USA. She has lived in three different countries and four US states and is always on the move. She runs a blog about writing, traveling and creativity. She is currently working on her first novel in a series, a fantasy book for young adults.
Leigh graduated from UC Santa Cruz in California with a Bachelor’s in Literature – Creative Writing. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in Creative Writing.
How Did You Know You Needed to Come on a Retreat?
I was at a crossroads in life. I’d worked in Asia (Japan and South Korea) for the past two years as a teacher and I’d just finished my current contract. But when I thought of teaching another year – of another year of putting off my novel and creative projects – something inside me shriveled up. I loved teaching – and I’d started traveling two years prior because I had always wanted to and had put it off. My motto became, “if not now, when?” And I’d realized, that while I’d applied that saying to traveling, my writing had suffered. And if I couldn’t find some time and space now to write my book, when would I? La Muse was one of the first retreats that popped up in my search and after trading a few emails with Kerry, I knew it was for me. While writing is a largely solitary experience – being a part of a creative community has always been essential to my process – to inspiring and sparking creativity. My conversations with John and Kerry and my fellow Musers really re-energized me.
What Is the Difference Between La Muse and a Writing Course to You?
Think of it like this: you’re going to another country and you can book a tour with a travel agent and have all your stops planned out for you or you could be your own guide and wander about and see what piques your interest. In this case, having a formal academic education in writing is like the travel agent: they help you get started, they show you where to go, they guide and inform your work and there’s not a lot of risk if you just show up and participate. La Muse is like being your own guide. La Muse gives you the time and space to explore. Being at La Muse helps you get back to nature and to yourself. You meet other writers and artists at your own pace and on your own schedule. You set your work hours. You’re never stuck in a workshop you hate or staring at a clock in a lecture. You cultivate the experience you want and you create what speaks to you.
Can You Give Us One Word to Describe Your Retreat?
What’s Been Your Eureka/Transformative Muse Moment?
I came to La Muse with a projected word-count and the idea that I would finish my book in a month. I did not reach that word-count or finish my book, but in some ways what I got was better. I realized that putting stress and pressure on yourself to produce and meet goals wasn’t really conducive to a healthy creative process. But I did realize I was a writer – that I could sit down and write every day – like it was a job, and that it was possible to make room for writing in my life.
What was the one thing you didn’t pack that you wish you had?
I came to La Muse with two suitcases and left with one. For me, the trip was about healing and unburdening. I couldn’t move on as a writer and a person with all my physical and emotional baggage. I had everything I needed in myself. That said – I did borrow John’s raincoat the entire stay, so maybe a raincoat?
How Do You Know You Are a Writer?
You’re a writer if you write. That’s something I didn’t realize for a long time, though it seems obvious now. I’d named myself a writer, but I’d go through periods where I wrote a ton and periods where I wrote nothing at all. You can’t wait for divine inspiration to strike you – sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t. You have to push through. You have to write even when you don’t particularly feel like it or don’t think you have anything to say. Half the battle is sitting down and opening a Word document or turning to a fresh page of your notebook. And don’t be afraid to write badly – because you will. You will write badly. It’s inevitable. But if you don’t write for fear of writing badly you’ll never write.
What is Creativity to You? What is Your Creative Process?
Creativity is not being afraid to explore. Creativity is not being afraid to write badly. At our core, we are creators and makers. Our current society has made that something to be ashamed of; something indulgent that’s not a viable career path. But we were put on this earth to make it more beautiful, to speak, to paint, to write, to build. Societies have been built on the backs of creators and makers. My creative process is to try to write through. Don’t edit yourself, don’t polish your work as you go. Just put words down or you’ll never move forward. There will be time for editing. Be a writer first and an editor second.
What is Inspiration or Inspirational to You? How Do You Live an Inspired Life?
I think most writers are observers and cataloguers. We see the world and we transform our experience of it into writing. Living an inspired life means being present for it. Put away the television, the cell-phone. Eat your meals mindfully without distraction. Taste the individual flavors. When you’re walking, stop to smell flowers or pick up interesting rocks. Try to listen for animals crawling in the leaves or brush. Listen to those base instincts that we have learned to ignore – and that seem like impulses. Take off your shoes if you want to. Climb a tree if you want to. Build a cairn out of rocks. Lick the plate. Make a crown out of daisies. Whenever you hear yourself saying, “that’s too childish or strange”, you’re probably on the right path.
What Advice Would You Give To a Young Writer?
Some people won’t like what you write. But some people will. Write for yourself, but realize, that someone out there needs to hear your story. Write for the you you needed when you were a child. What did you need to hear, but didn’t? That you were loved, that you were perfect as you were, that heroes take on unlikely forms? What did that six or ten or twelve year old you need to hear or read? Whatever it is, that’s your story.