How I Write

There’s a little thing going around called How I Write.

Normally when someone says there’s a little thing going around I run to the nearest hand washing station and scrub away. Then I drink a concoction of apple cider vinegar, cranberry juice, and lemon that feels like swallowing fire (I assume. I’ve never swallowed fire. I come from show people, but have never been in the circus myself.). Finally, I pray a fervent prayer of pleaseohplease Lord, don’t let me or the kids or heaven forbid, Mark, get sick, amen.

This time, however, I am glad to have caught the little thing from Leigh Ann. I’m also conflicted. Talking about writing feels pretentious and self-absorbed. Topping that off, a recent crisis of confidence (how artistic of me, right? barf) almost kept me from sharing. I wondered whether I should accept the baton from Leigh Ann, and then I smacked myself in the face with that baton. It was a metaphorical smack, but if you suspected I actually hit myself in the head, that’s okay. I do stuff like that all the time.

I realized that if like reading what other writers have to say about their process, perhaps you’ll like reading about mine. Confidence will be rattled now and then, but the writing must continue. The show must go on! (Remember, I’m descended from circus people and vaudevillians.)

And so. My answers to the How I Write questions:

1. What are you working on?

A novel. I know, sister, me and everyone else. The knowledge that 1 in 5 people (totally made up statistic) has a novel in their bottom desk drawer or drafts folder has stopped me dead before. What makes me any different?

I’ll tell you: Me. I make myself different. (Imagine I wrote that more eloquently and less grammatically clunky.)

This novel evolved from a need to tell a story of loss, recovery, and survival, and to tell it in my voice, with some humor. There are thousands upon thousands of tales of loss, but none have been told by me.

I started it a couple years ago and it was terrible, horrible, no good, very bad. I read over my first few “chapters” (and yes, the quotes are appropriate), and quit. It was rubbish, not even fit for the compost bin. The story was muddled, tone and voice all over the place. I knew why I wanted to tell it, but not how.

The story worked at me, quietly, for the next couple years until I said fine, I’ll try again. I have a clear vision for it now. That’s not to say I have the plot nailed down, but I do know the basics of where my character came from, where she is, and where she’ll end up.

That feels good.

I’m also working on personal essays for this blog and other publications. Writing personal essays is a lifelong dream that started with reading my mother’s Erma Bombeck books, and finding pure bliss in Dave Barry’s weekly column. I used to read parts of Dave’s columns aloud to my family. I was always laughing so hard that I couldn’t speak coherently, so mostly they heard my guffaws instead of the story. I’m sure my family loved those live, unintelligible readings.

2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?

Saying I have a genre feels writerly and smug. I want to talk about it my best Thurston Howell III voice. Lovey, dear, let’s discuss genre.

I’m not ready to talk about the novel in a lot of detail. It’s early yet. For this question, let’s stick to personal essays.

I don’t know that my work is vastly different from other work out there. There are a lot of us – a lot – telling the stories of our lives in 500-800 words a pop. In less than 32 seconds, I can think of a dozen warm, funny writers that I hope I don’t differ from too much, at least not in the feeling I want to leave with you when you read my essays.

I view life with a humorous slant. Above all, I see the funny. This has led to inappropriate laughter at all the most cliché times: funerals, hospital waiting rooms, parent-teacher conferences, and work functions.

Laughter aside, I’m also a huge pile of mush. Once I’m done snort-laughing as quietly as possible while my husband’s colleague holds the entire table hostage with tales of his rod (fishing, duh, but you see why I got the giggles), I can find the heart of the moment. Maybe it’s something endearing about the graceful way my husband handles these work shindigs, or maybe it’s a poignant thought about growing up and not chortling at the word rod.

3. Why do you write what you do?

See my earlier nods to Erma and Dave. See also all that stuff about wanting to tell a story in novel form.

I write because I have no other marketable skills. I write what I do because, simply, it makes me happy. I process things by writing them down. Not only does it bring me joy, but writing also centers me and helps me make sense of all the crap. Jeez, there is a lot of crap going on out there.

4. How does your writing process work?

First, I get a cup of herbal tea. Then, I sit at my desk and work away for five uninterrupted hours.

Hahahahahahahaha. Ha.

I have small children. I have no childcare outside of preschool and elementary school. I do not have a housekeeper, lawn service, or chef. I do have an incredibly supportive husband, thank goodness.

Because of the no childcare, no house-care thing, I write when I can. That means I break the cardinal rule of WRITE EVERY DAY. I’m always writing in my head, but I don’t get to the page/screen daily. Most days, yes. Every day, no.

When I have a deadline, I meet it. Usually there is crying and some bargaining with God, but I meet that deadline. When there is no deadline… My process is haphazard, at best.

There are scribbled notes that I never understand when I look at them days – or months – later. There are feverishly written drafts that seem like pure genius at the time of writing, and pure drivel upon a second reading.

The process evolves as my children do. We’re all growing together. I suspect that once they are both in elementary school, things will look differently than they do now. Let’s not even talk about writing during summer vacation.

And there you have it. I think I could talk about writing, or write about writing all day, every day. I’ll stop here, though, in case you cannot so much read about it all day.

I’m passing the torch/baton/whatever to AmandaCarol, and Virginia, some of my favorite Austin-based writers. Talk about heart and humor, these ladies are masters.

7 Comments

  1. Almost everything I wrote used to have a humorous slant but no I’ve lost that – or I’ve at least lost the confidence required to take a stab at it.

    Trying to be funny is a risk, isn’t it?

    I imagine myself laughing, snorts and tears and all that, and the rest of the room is full of cricket chirps.

    Everyone knows crickets should NOT be indoors.

    (Except for the ones you have to buy and keep in a cage and provide refrigerated sustenance for so they can grow up to be food for your son’s gecko. THOSE crickets are awesome. I mean *expensive*.)

    Anyway.

    I’ve been all about the heart and the feelings and the deep emotions in the past year and a half. Or so. And I want to get my funny back.

    This post is making me the tiniest bit brave about it.

    Soon. Maybe soon.
    julie gardner´s last [type] ..Goldilocks and the House Fire

  2. Writing everyday is HARD. Why is it so hard to do something we say we love? Poppycock.

    I really want to order you a tshirt that says “I come from show people.”
    Leigh Ann´s last [type] ..some stuff

  3. I love it all, especially this: “First, I get a cup of herbal tea. Then, I sit at my desk and work away for five uninterrupted hours.
    Hahahahahahahaha. Ha.”
    Maybe we can help each other get over our busy lives/procrastination and back to the writing table.
    Virginia Woodruff´s last [type] ..Expecting the Unexpected

  4. Please oh please tell me your book is about your circus background.

  5. ” I come from show people”……this is why I freakin’ love you.
    Kari´s last [type] ..Nighty Night Stand Part Deux. How Cheap Can Kari Be. Aka- I Need To Get A Job

  6. For the record, I think you have a lovely writing voice.

    In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests committing to writing three pages per day. You’re not to judge the work, just do it; the deal with God taking care of the quality, while you take care of the quantity.

    It works well for me, because I can turn off my internal editor and vomit the story onto the page. Do you want to know what’s weird about this process? The work ends up being really good–not perfect–but the Big Kahuna is much better at quality control than I.

    I think my t-shirt would have to read: I COME FROM WHITE TRASH. I find it best to set expectations low, so others are pleasantly surprised. ;)

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