Abby, who writes lovely poems on her own blog and also over at Red Wolf Poems, asked me to participate in a Writing Process Blog Tour. The deal is, I answer 3 questions about my writing, post it on my blog, and then pass the virtual baton by asking another writer/blogger to respond to the same questions. My answers are below. Would you like to share your answers?
What Am I Working On?
I continue a mostly-daily poetry practice I began in late October, 2012. This doesn’t qualify as “work” in my mind, but as pleasure, a gift to myself that I can unwrap and be surprised by over and over.
I am also writing a couple of novels. I’m giving some daily effort to one this summer, with the goal of a draft by summer’s end. This draft I’m aiming for is what Anne Lamott, in her justly famous book Bird By Bird calls a “shitty first draft” and Jane Vandenburgh in her incredible book Architecture Of The Novel calls a “provisional draft”. If you want to write stories and haven’t read both of these books, give yourself a gift—walk away from your computer right this minute and go get them!
Why Do I Write What I Do?
I have been a reader for a long time. To dive into a novel and emerge hours later, refreshed and intrigued by both stories and life is one of the great pleasures in this world. When someone tells me they don’t like to read, my silent and fervent hope for them is that something in their life gives them the joy I get from reading novels.
The joy I get from writing a story is a whole different ball game. There is nothing else at all like the feeling when a story is really flowing, characters dashing around doing their thing, and I look up to discover an hour or two has disappeared. I think every would-be novelist secretly or not-so-secretly dreams of publishing success, whatever than means to them—critical acclaim, bestseller lists, whatever. I do too, of course, but as nice as that would be, it’s nothing compared to the rush of creating. And I’m amazed every time I remember that this rush is a gift writers give to themselves, that it doesn’t depend on any outside authority granting you a contract or job or prestigious award. Incredible, isn’t it?
Poems are another animal. Several years ago, when life was too busy to fit in the long attention span needed for a novel, I began writing poems and essays. I had some modest success with these, publishing in a few journals and magazines, an anthology, even a chapbook from a small publisher.
But I drifted away from writing, caught up in life and work.
In October 2012, I read a magazine article about Samantha Reynolds, who blogs at bentlily.com. Her goal was to write a poem every day for a year, as a way to wake up and notice the world around her. It made me nostalgic for the writing I used to do.
This was at a tough spot in my life. I was going through some big personal losses—deaths, divorce, two kids with struggles of their own, including some scary medical problems, on and on. A daily poetry practice is how I pulled myself together, noticing and treating my life and my desire to write with reverence. It is not too much to say that in quiet, incremental steps, writing a poem each day has changed my life.
How Does My Writing Process Work?
I write poems with my morning coffee, starting with a handwritten draft. Sometimes I am trying to capture a particular moment from the day before, sometimes I’m responding to a writing prompt from a book or website, sometimes I’m just messing around with words. After I’ve got something on paper, I move to the computer and type/rearrange it using the awesome writing software, Scrivener from Literature and Latte. By that point, I am out of time, and need to rush around and get ready for work. So I post the poem as is to my poetry site. Then I congratulate myself for writing it, and firmly dismiss the critic who says it is awful or it needs multiple revisions. No time for that.
The time constraint has been a very good thing for me. It stops me from over-thinking what I want to write. And as the days and poems pile up, the heft of it reminds me that to be inspired, to be actively writing and following that dream, that the very ACT of doing it inspires and creates more things I want to write.
Novel writing is a much messier process. I write scenes, story ideas, etc. by hand. When I’ve accumulated some pages, I type them up, again using Scrivener software, print them out and rearrange them in a 3-ring binder. Over this summer, when I’ve got more time to write, I aim for a couple of hours per day. I usually write early in the morning before I get distracted by summer fun. We’ll see how it all works out…