I love musing about, writing on and discussing the creative process—mine and others. My favorite writing books focus more on process than craft since we all come at it from different perspectives in order to arrive at the same place— getting our words onto the page and out into the world.
So when I was asked by the lovely Deborah Brasket to participate in this Writing Process Blog Hop, I was thrilled. Deborah lives on the central California coast where she writes fiction, poetry and writing inspired by the natural world. Visit her blog, Living on the Edge of the Wild where she explores “the borderlands that lay between the human and the more-than-human worlds, and the ways they overlap and mirror each other.”
Now, I am supposed to tag 3 more writers to participate. After asking my entire Twitter and Facebook communities, plus reaching out to many writers personally, I have not found anyone able to participate.
So… consider this a shout-out tag. Anyone who has not participated yet and wants to, please leave me a comment. I will do another post highlighting you along with a link to your contribution to the Blog Hop. Seriously. Let me know. Let’s keep this going. We all benefit from sharing our writing and creatives process.
Here are the questions:
What are you working on?
I like having several projects going at once, just as I always read several books at once—different genres of different lengths to fit my current mood and time frame. Having several writing projects allows me to take a break from one, letting it simmer and percolate while not allowing my writing momentum to stagnate.
1. I just finished a revision of a novel-in-stories, “Learning Curve.” I am in the process of writing an agent query letter and getting it ready to submit. The stories follow the life of Martha Jane Fiske from age 10 through adulthood who, after her parents’ divorce, is left in the unfamiliar and awkward care of a father who has been somewhat on the periphery of her life and is now at the center. Marty (a new name to match the new identity she tries on like it’s an accessory) finds herself slowly yet intently gravitating away from that center, as she looks to fill the gaping hole her mother’s departure left with anything and anyone who makes her feel like she is enough. The novel explores identity and the complexities of motherhood and marriage and the ways we struggle to define ourselves in the midst of living complicated, unpredictable lives.
2. I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMO several years ago. I still love the characters and feel drawn to their stories. While I have a draft, I feel I am rewriting it more than revising. It is still untitled which tells me I haven’t unearthed the heart of the story yet. I am still struggling with the structure as it is told form the POV of several different characters after the unexpected death of their husband and father.
3. I’ve jotted notes and scenes for a YA Fantasy I am kind of in love with but am not ready to discuss at any length. All I can say is that it involves guardian angels.
4. I have many short stories in various stages of completion. I love the compactness of a story. I love that it can be written and shared in a relatively short amount of time.
5. I am a columnist for elephant journal where I write at least one post a week. I have also volunteered to edit several pieces a week for them as I learn so much from editing others’ writing.
6. Then there is my own blog, which I have been trying to give more consistent love and attention.
How does your work differ from others in its genre?
For the most part, I write literary fiction, which Ron Carlson defines as “a story that deals with the complicated human heart with an honest tolerance for the ambiguity in which we live.” So, I try to enter the complicated hearts of my characters and their stories with that kind of honest tolerance. I don’t believe in neat, tidy, tied-up-in-a-bow kind of endings. I try to follow my characters instead of my ego, letting them show me the way.
Why do you write what you do?
I don’t set out to write on any particular theme though I do see certain themes emerge in many of my stories: motherhood, marriage, identity, faith. I write what needs to be written, what bubbles up from inside of me. Characters and scenes often emerge when I am playing with writing prompts. I sit down without any agenda, just to play and see what happens. I trust that the stories I need to tell will reveal themselves at the right time.
How does your writing process work?
Calling it a “process” is a very flattering term for I what I actually experience. I feel like it’s a much more intuitive, fly-by-the-seat of my pants kind of space where I honor the ebb and flow of my particular creative process.
I write most everything in longhand first. I feel more connected to my writing that way. Often, I start with prompts that then turn into characters, conversations, scenes. Once I have a collection of these, I sit down and type them up, seeing where I’m at. Is it a story? A novel? A novel-in-stories? I make notes of what I like, what is missing, what questions I have and use those as little assignments for myself. I try to keep on top of typing all these bits and pieces up because typing is not my favorite thing. Once I have a draft, I let it sit—could be for days, weeks or even months. I need enough time to pass so that I can look at it and almost forget that I wrote it.
Then the same process starts all over again. Read it with pen in hand, making notes to myself as if I am workshopping a piece from somebody in my writing group. Once that draft is done, I’ll show it to my group to get their input—incorporating what resonates with me, trusting my instinct as to what that may be.
As far as when and how much I write on any given day…well, I don’t stick to any rigid, consistent schedule. Or if I do, it’s for a set amount of time. When I was revising my novel-in-stores for a contest, I worked almost daily, usually at the bookstore (away from dishes, TV, laundry) and I would work for 45 minutes, break for 15. I’d do up to 5 sets of these. It worked at the time, but I haven’t really used that since. Not to say that I won’t again.
Another part of my process involves keeping a notebook for each WIP. I’ll write from prompts in there, focused on specific characters. I’ll brainstorm names or plot possibilities. I’ll ask questions, track my progress for the day, write new scenes coded with a letter and a page number so I know where in the ms to insert it.
Daily yoga and meditation nurture my writing process, allowing my mind to stay focused and all my energy to flow.
The most important part of my process involves showing up. I wrote these intentions at the beginning the year instead of resolutions and I find they have been a beacon for my writing:
1. I write daily with courage, an open heart and compassion for the ebb and flow of the creative process.
2. I devote myself to my writing time with focus, clarity, passion and joy.
3. I connect with other writers in person and on-line for encouragement and support.
4. I commit to sharing my words by sending them out into the world again and surrender the outcome to the Universe.
5. I continue a daily meditation and yoga practice that allows my writing life to flourish.
So, that’s it. That’s what my writing process looks like today. It could be totally different next year, next month or even next week.
How about you? Interested in sharing your process? Please leave a link in the comments. We’d all love to hear what works for you.
January found me wanting me to make yet another resolution to get more serious about my writing.
Usually this involves a detailed list of projects I want to start, finish, revise and submit by certain dates throughout the upcoming year. It ends up being a fairly grueling schedule that sucks the fun out of writing before I even begin.
This year I decided to try something different. At the end of the year, I participated in an online “Renew & Review Writing Challenge” with Jill Jepson. It helped me to look over the past year to see what worked and what didn’t in my writing life. It also helped me to clarify what I wanted my writing life to look like for the next 12 months. What I loved was how we focused more on intentions rather than goals. Goals are product, intentions are process. Goals are future, intentions are present. It just really resonated with me.
When January rolled around, I took a four-week hypnosis workshop at my yoga studio designed to align us with our resolutions for the new year. I showed up each week with the intention to show up to writing practice and life, to all aspects of it:
My writing life will continue to flourish in 2014 by showing up daily to my creativity and writing; being comfortable with not always knowing what comes next; allowing myself to play; giving myself permission to succeed or fail; being present to and grateful for the process.
These intentions held a much more fluid space than the rigid goals I’d normally set for myself. I showed up to my writing and yoga practices, letting one nurture the other. I listened to the meditations from the hypnosis workshop each night, letting the words flow into my subconscious, letting them work their magic.
It all worked. We are halfway through the year and I have a new relationship with my writing life. In six months I have:
– Finished revising my novel-in-stories
– Wrote an agent query letter
– Began rewriting a second novel
– Jotted notes for a YA novel
– Participated in a 4-month apprenticeship for elephant journal in which I wrote 19 personal pieces, edited close to 60 and gained an in depth knowledge of social media
– Became an elephant journal columnist once the four months was up
– Started my own writer Facebook page
– Rededicated myself to building a Twitter audience
All of these accomplishments are great. Seriously, I am super proud of myself. But it’s not even the main point. The main shift I’ve experienced is a more fluid relationship to my writing, to showing up to my work. Much less angst and reprisals. More joy and compassion.
And I think that is filtering into all the nooks and crannies of my life.
I can’t wait to see what the next six months hold.
How about you? Any intentions or goals for the summer? For the rest of the year? I’d love to hear about them.
I cried three times yesterday.
It was one of those days and I am learning to honor them.
The first tears came during yoga. I stayed for three classes. They came during a particularly challenging prana vinyasa. I felt them heating up behind my eyes and just breathed into it. Then they let loose (along with whatever samskara I hap tapped into) while I was in Urdhva Dhanurasana as my amazing teacher adjusted me, holding my shoulders, holding space as my heart spilled open.
The second round came when I realized that both of my girls were leaving for the day to go do fun teenage sister stuff. Which is great. Really. I love that they are so close. I love that they want to spend everyday together before Katie leaves for school in August. But my husband has been out of town for awhile, the girls have been busy with, you know, their lives and stuff and I’ve been home alone.
Some days I am alone and I am just alone. Other times I am alone and I am lonely.
Yesterday I was lonely.
It reminded me of when I was in college, before I had a roommate. We lived in apartments, mixed in with non-students so there wasn’t a dorm feeling at all. No easy way to meet people. I remember positioning myself on the couch in front of the window because I could see into the apartment diagonal from mine that housed some students so I hoped they could see into mine, see me alone in mine, take pity on me and invite me over.
That didn’t happen.
What did happen is that my girls and my “third” daughter came home from their fun sister day and invited me to a game night. WE sat around the dining room table playing Taboo, Bananagrams and Catch Phrase, laughing, talking and I remembered to just breathe it all in, enjoying, savoring every moment.
In Hatha this morning, the theme was “transitions.” That is what I am in the middle of. A huge life transition. Life is full of them, right? At least this is one that I am being eased into instead of forced into. At least I got an extra two years with Katie while she lived at home and took her general credit classes at the local community college. At least my girls and I sincerely like each other and enjoy spemnding time together. At least all those things.
But sometimes, like yesterday, the hole their absence will leave in my daily life almost takes my breath away.
That’s when I have to remember to breathe.
After all, I don’t want to be yanked kicking and screaming through this transition. I also don’t want to set up camp just outside the threshhold of this transition, stagnant and stuck.
I want to move mindfully, perhaps even gracefully through it, into whatever is waiting for me on the other side. Being with these tears, these feelings is part of that process.
The third set of tears came as we held our last mentor meeting online. There was a certain bittersweet quality to the meeting as we realized this particular way of connecting with each week was coming to an end, just as our time as apprentices was coming to a close. We wrote together once last time and everything I had been feeling all day got churned up by the prompt and was splilled out into more tears and a poem:
So many shades of blue
drizzling behind my eyes,
behind my skin.
Porcelain blue teacups of tears spilling
from my heart
as my girls have one foot out the door
ready to leave.
The loneliness is immense at times and
they haven’t even left yet.
But it’s coming.
In a blink it has come, this time of letting them go.
Wasn’t I just holding them in the soft glow of the nightlight,
gently rocking in the glider as if we were still one?
So, loneliness seeps in on days like today.
But also joy.
Vibrant peacock blue joy
that they are ready.
That they are ready to leave and
shine their own colors into the world,
spilling the rainbows of their awesome selves
out into the lives
they are meant to live.
Ever since I started writing for elephant journal almost 4 months ago, I’ve been waiting for one of my pieces to reach the magic number that would catapult it into the Popular Lately category. I’d compulsively refresh the page throughout the day to see how many views each article had, eventually seeing the numbers stagnate shy of that magic number.
Then it happened. Yesterday this piece seemed to really connect with people and I saw the numbers steadily climb and I was so excited and then, there it was, on the front page under “Popular Lately.”
I’d done it.
Then what happened?
Well, first this: I saw other articles which higher numbers. Much higher numbers. And that bummed me out. And made me question myself. Even though I had just accomplished the goal I had set for myself. I didn’t even give myself time ( a mere minute) to enjoy that accomplishment before longing for higher numbers. More, more, more.
So, there was that.
Then what happened?
It was cool, for sure. I was honored and grateful that my piece had resonated with so many people. I mean, that’s why I write, right? To connect. To have my words move even one person.
But, as I’d found myself checking the numbers over and over I wondered if that was true. Did I really only care if only one person was affected. My actions seemed to go against that premise. My actions seemed to suggest something slightly less altruistic: the more the better.
That got me thinking. What did more views really mean to me? The more views, the more poplar I was? The more views, the more liked I was? The more views, the better of a writer I was?
Then I started thinking about all the ways we measure our success on-line: Facebook likes and shares and comments. Blog subscribers and comments. Twitter favorites and retweets. Pinterest likes and repins.
It’s like we are reducing our society to the social dynamics of junior high all over again.
I don’t know about you, but I hated junior high.
So….what does this all mean?
I’m trying to build a writer’s platform so I need to be part of the social media scene—a scene I actually enjoy. I enjoy connecting with people beyond my own small circle, connecting with other creative people all trying to share their words and stories. I enjoy being part of this on-line tribe of creatives.
I guess what this all means is that I need to stay mindful as I continue to put my work out there. Do my work, put it out there, help it make its way into the world then put my head down and work some more.
My hope is to have a book published and there are so many ways to measure a book’s success that I can’t let myself get caught up in the numbers game.
Sure, numbers mean something but they can’t mean everything.