Welcome to THE(slow)POET.
I am Libby Walkup a writer, editor, and bookbinder. I’ve spent the last two decades engaging in creative practices within academia. I’ve earned one undergraduate degree, three MAs, and one MFA. I spent 4+ years in graduate-level writing and arts workshops and six years tutoring and TAing undergraduate and graduate writers, four of which were at the University of Iowa Writing Center.
I sincerely thought that academia was the best and, only place, really, for creatives like me to be a part of a community AND have the time, space, and support to develop skills and engage in a practice free from the mind-numbing burnout the 9-5 often creates (at least for me!). I wasn’t trying to be snobby, I’d just never managed it any other way! I was so committed to this belief, that it became true.
Whenever I was out of a program, I crumbled: I found low-paying work that burned me out and just barely covered the bills. I spent most of my free time searching for better-paying jobs that MIGHT POSSIBLY, engage more of the skills I’d worked so hard to attain in career tracks I wasn’t specifically trained for and that didn’t ignite my creative fire while my half-finished manuscripts were left strewn about the backseat of my car getting sad and dusty.
Academic programs were the only space I got any writing and making done at all. I had really great teachers and mentors who were pivotal to the maker I am today; I had, to varying degrees, more freedom in my schedule than the 40-hour work week; I made beautiful, creative friends; and lived in really cool places.
But when COVID-19 broke out in 2020 just after a very serious bout of burnout that nearly forced me to leave what would have been my second MFA, I had to take a hard look at the costs of academia too (outside of the literal price tag of graduate school):
I experienced a severe semester hustle and burnout cycle. This was highlighted at the University of Iowa simply because it’s a big research institution with opportunities and expectations that I tried hard to earn and live up to, but burnout wasn’t limited to my time there. This cycle amps up my depression and decreases my ability to make stuff which left many projects unfinished.
In theory, class schedules, homework, and deadlines are meant to feed a student’s interests, but because of my neurodiverse brain, I have always struggled to keep up with the work assigned, let alone pursue interests outside of the syllabus. I had to make choices that prevented me from finishing back-burner projects and exploring novel research and creative projects necessary to advance an academic career.
The inability to finish projects or follow my own interests fostered an environment of mental chaos, a feeling that every unfinished task was important and must be finished RIGHT NOW, which depleted my focus, increased my cortisol, and I developed a resentment toward the system that I perceived put me in this state.
And, finally, I wasn’t sure, despite the improvements many of my profs made, that the workshop style served my writing as I frequently took on advice that contradicted my gut because I was trained to be too accommodating and to defer to anyone smarter or more creative than myself, which I perceived to be everyone.
Some folks thrive in these creative academic spaces and a lot of teachers have worked hard to make them inviting, encouraging, innovative spaces, but whether or not I continued on an academic path, I knew two things:
In order to be the writer I wanted to be I had to figure out what blocked me from building a home practice, and,
If I did pursue academia further, I would have to come equipped with a stronger sense of myself, my needs, and my boundaries to create an experience that serves me, my work, and the students I might work with.
And so I did what I do and dove into books for answers.
I worked my way through psychology and social work books to heal traumas, I read all of the on-writing books I could get my hands on for tips on practice and engaging creativity, and I dove into productivity and organization books to help figure out where I might develop better systems that give me more space for creativity while removing blocks.
Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way changed the game
I remembered it sitting on my shelf coming into my final year of study. The studios at UI Center for the Book had opened with safety precautions in place, but I was still too panicked to use them much. I HAD to develop a home practice, or I might as well have quit the program right then.
While using Cameron’s techniques, I did shift away from the book arts and back into writing, which ultimately ended in my taking an MA rather than an MFA. But I truly feel that it clarified where I was meant to put my energy: writing. And my practice flourished.
For the first time in my life, I began to deconstruct many of my blocks, confront long-held wrong beliefs about what is to be a creative, and I practiced writing every single day without supervision or the push of external deadlines, which significantly changed my practice as well as my life.
I have struggled as a creative, not only financially in the starving artist trope sense, but emotionally. When I’m not writing and making I become depressed, disconnected, more agitated, and unable to deal with what life throws at me.
If you’ve got a project that needs editing or feel stuck in your creative practice, let’s chat.
Contact me via email to set up a consultation for Creative Coaching sessions or get a quote for Editing Services: libbywalkup (at) gmail (dot) com