Taking Care: Gina Chung on Fostering a Long-Haul Creative Practice
In Conversation with Guest Host Mira Jacob on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
For her last episode as guest-host, Mira Jacob chats with former mentee Gina Chung about her debut novel Sea Change, writing about the honest messy stuff, and learning to take better care of yourself (mind, body, and spirit) for the long-haul creative practice.
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From the conversation:
Mira Jacob: You can tell that girl [an earlier Gina] not to panic, which I appreciate. I also told her not to panic. What else would you tell her?
Gina Chung: I would also tell her to take care of herself. It sounds so basic, but it’s so true. At this point in the process of this book, I’ve burnt myself out so many times. Not just because of the novel but because of all the competing demands of being a person in the world, of having a full-time job to be accountable to, and also working on other writing projects.
There have been so many times in the last two to three years where I’ve hit that productivity rock bottom and thought to myself, oh my gosh, it’s gone. I don’t have any more creative juice or willpower. Wherever it was that I was getting inspiration, the well has dried up and I don’t know what to do.
And every single time the answer has just been to rest. But every single time I’m still so panicked that this is the end of the road. I’ve had to tell myself to take that time whenever I can and really listen to myself, too, in those moments. If you don’t rest your body and your brain, eventually they will make you. And when that happens, it can be really challenging. It’s better for you to choose to take that break than be forced to by life circumstances.
It’s so easy for me to not listen to my body and to just keep on going with whatever it is I think I have to get done until I’m at the end of my rope. And I’m like, why am I so tired? I’m crying at everything and everything is so hard. And the answer is usually that I’ve burnt myself out in some way.
With writing, I want this to be a long career for me. And in order to do that, I really had to learn how to make friends with not just my mind and my creativity, but also with my body. To think about what it means to be in this container of a body and how to ensure that it gets through the long haul, essentially.
Gina Chung is a Korean American writer. Born in Queens and raised in New Jersey, she is now based in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of SEA CHANGE (2023 B&N Discover Pick for April; Vintage, March 28, 2023; out in the Commonwealth on April 13, 2023 and in the UK on August 10, 2023 from Picador) a novel about climate change, giant Pacific octopuses, and family, and GREEN FROG (Vintage, 2024; out in the UK/Commonwealth from Picador in 2024) a collection of short stories that explore themes of Korean American womanhood, bodies and animals. A recipient of the Pushcart Prize, she is a 2021-2022 Center for Fiction/Susan Kamil Emerging Writer Fellow and holds an MFA in fiction from The New School’s Creative Writing Program and a BA in literary studies from Williams College. She is an alumnus of several workshops and/or craft intensives, including the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Sevilla Writers House, The Center for Fiction, Kweli, and Tin House.