Juan Carlos Reyes is one dope dad. He’s a hell of a writer and a literary arts advocate. He’s a board member at Seattle City of Literature, which engages the city’s literary culture. Juan is an assistant professor of creative writing at Seattle University. Did I mention he’s Chief Editor at Big Fiction Magazine? He’s a big deal with a bigger heart. And he was gracious enough to spill a few creative wellness secrets for ‘60 Second Interviews | 6 Feet Apart,’ a new video series celebrating — yep, you guessed right — creative hot messes. And nothing is messier like being a writer with a family (not to be confused with this list of great writers, terrible parents). Thankfully, Juan has some advice!
This extended interview has been edited for clarity and length.
D.A. Navoti: How do you define creative wellness?
Juan Carlos Reyes: I used to put so much pressure on myself when I couldn’t get to my laptop or couldn’t get to my notebook [to write]. And [a former professor] kept reiterating that reading is writing.
Watching television is writing. Jotting down notes on your phone is writing. Multi-tasking is writing.
Every aspect of using your mind to synthesize information and synthesize parts of a story – even if it’s finding comparative points with somebody else’s story, and thinking about how your story contrasts, or how your story can improve, or how your work can improve based on somebody else’s work, in whatever medium it comes – that’s also writing.
Once I internalized that, the pressure of getting to the laptop and drafting is woosh…washed away.
DAN: Describe your day-to-day of living creatively healthy. What does it entail?
JCR: I’m watching one of my favorite streaming shows, Utopia on Amazon Prime. At some point during the day, I like reading the submissions we get at Big Fiction Magazine, where I am the Chief Editor. I love reading through [the submissions], even if it's just one or two a day to process with the creative world. I take a moment to get physical, either lifting a weight here and there, or jogging with my puppy. I [need to] get out of my head. I’m the sort of person who loves being in my head a lot. But I work on reminding myself to be physical.
DAN: But what about creative unhealthiness? Day-to-day, what does that look like to you?
JCR: [Juan spits]
DAN: Great response!
JCR: You can say I spit [laughing]. It all comes down to how I feel at the end of the day. If a sense of shame creeps in because I didn’t complete what I wanted to complete, I have to talk myself out of it.
Shame for me, then, is creatively unhealthy.
DAN: What advice can you give to creative types who are parents?
JCR: Ah man. The relationship you have with your children will outlast anything you write. Our writer models who are parents are often ugly. There’s a history of men who have abandoned their families or who have not been good parents. Or a history of women who believed I can’t be a mother because I need to be creative first. I’m not saying you can balance the two. I won’t complete as many drafts or stories or books that are planned in my notebook.
But my relationship with my son and daughter will outlast whatever I write.
Juan Carlos Reyes has published the novella A Summer's Lynching (Quarterly West) and the fiction chapbook Elements of a Bystander (Arcadia Press). His stories, poems and essays have appeared in Florida Review, Waccamaw Journal, and Hawai’i Review, among others. He has been the recipient of the Gar LaSalle Artist Trust Storyteller Award, a PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellowship, and a Jack Straw Writers Fellowship. He received his MFA from The University of Alabama and has taught poetry and fiction with the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project. He sits on the board of the Seattle City of Literature organization and serves as an Assistant Professor of creative writing at Seattle University. He also serves as the chief editor of Big Fiction Magazine. Find Juan on Twitter and Instagram.
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