You know that thing that’s going around the Internet? You know which one I’m talking about. No, not the one about the cat in the shark costume on the Roomba, that’s old news. I’m talking about the one where writers ask other writers about their writing process? Well, a friend of mine, Tyler Yoder, tapped me for this exercise, oh, a few weeks back, and I said, “sure, I think I can squeeze it in.” Only, I was lying about that. I didn’t realize how busy I was until I stopped having time for writing and my whole life became about three things:
- Selling our house/buying a new house
- Finding paid work
- Trying not to have a nervous breakdown
But I decided to do it right now, because I need to evaluate my writing process so I can fix what’s broken. Then I can be a mean-writing machine. I don’t think anybody’s going to read this, probably, but I have a spare half-hour before I need to attend to my next obligation, so here it goes…
1. What are you working on?
I am currently working on several projects at once, some more than others. Obviously, this blog gets most of my attention because it is like a relationship; if I don’t maintain it, it will die. This blog has been a fantastic way for me to prioritize writing in my life so that I can gain the practice I need to become a self-supporting writer. That has been my secret pipe dream since childhood, to become a novelist, so since my grown-up, responsible career went up in flames, may as well chase that pipe dream, right?
Don’t laugh. I realize how silly it sounds.
Anyway, to that end, I am working on a memoir of my very strange, surreal time in rehab, as well as a novel about a young woman whose life drastically changes during the financial crisis. I have 20,016 words of the memoir so far, and far less of the novel. I also have a handful of what-if drafts of fiction on the back-back burner, as just because I’m working on one project doesn’t mean I don’t get ideas for others. I jot down notes for the ideas, and save them for later.
I also have professional work, both paid and unpaid for causes I believe in and just for fun. I’m a contributing editor at yeah write, I contribute monthly for Have Heart Magazine, I write sassy feminist and political/pop culture stuff for Lefty Pop, and I participate in Cinapse‘s weekly Two Cents column writing micro film reviews.
At the moment, I am also putting together some short stories to send out to literary magazines. Why the hell not, right?
Finally, I write poetry as often as I can, because it’s good for the soul.
2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I don’t think of myself as writing in a genre. Maybe literary fiction or memoir (a genre I’d never expected to try)? All I know is that when I write, I aim for intelligence, wit, authenticity and beauty, with dry humor if the subject calls for it. Also, I put myself in my writing, tell my stories. No one else can do that – be me, I mean. In that way, my work is different from anyone else’s.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I write about what’s going on in my life or what has gone on in my life for several reasons.
- One, so that I can tell the truth about myself, because as Virginia Woolf says, “If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”
- Two, because it opens up avenues to deeper relationships with others around me. I’m reserved in person, so being vulnerable here helps me to be vulnerable in real life.
- Three, I write about my life because I always thought I had nothing interesting to say until I said something.
I was always the person who ignored who I was and tried to be someone I liked better. By writing, I am learning to appreciate my experience of life, this gift I so often take for granted. I soak up my experiences, savoring them in ways I don’t when I don’t put them on paper.
4. How does my writing process work?
My process is like any other writer’s, I guess. I aim to journal every day, at least one page. This empties my mind of the crap over which I fruitlessly obsess. Though I left off this process while I was at the height of my freelancing career, I’ve recently picked it back up again because damn, I need it, otherwise I’m going to keep going 100 rounds of “maybe I should enroll in medical school instead” in my head.
I like to work in specific places depending on my mood, but my favorite places are in my office, on my back porch, and at my favorite locally-owned coffee shops. I need mild levels of stimulation: the soft hum of clinking cups, beautiful photos, flowers, the smell of wood. It helps me concentrate.
Unfortunately, if the writing is going badly, I procrastinate by hitting up my favorite websites and reading pithy articles on feminism, books and a variety of contemporary theories, but I’m trying not to do this anymore and just get to work already.
My chief sin in writing is that I write for others first, neglecting projects like my short stories, novel or memoir in favor of more pressing demands. It’s almost as if I’m afraid of myself. Afraid of doing what I know I’m meant to do because if I fail, who am I?
I’m aiming to live more like this:
“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”
— Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
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I’m supposed to tag someone to go next, but I don’t want to press anyone into something. Also, I’m at my vulnerability limit for the decade, so I’m not in the emotional place to ask anyone at the moment. HOWEVER, if you would like to share about your writing process, feel free to take on the torch and let me know! I’d love to read about it.