So, my lovely writer/Internet friend, Kate, recently tagged me in a writer/blogger challenge to answer questions regarding my writing process. And true to my writing process, I’ve been writing this in bits and have been dragging out actually posting it. But it’s Saturday morning, I’ve got nothing to do for the next few hours, and it’s time to finally get to writing! It’s hard to believe how many years have passed since Kate and I first had the pleasure of working together on Lucy Magazine (RIP), and in that time, I’ve had the pleasure to watch her pursue her writing dreams full force. No smoke blowing when I say that it’s been an inspiration, and I’m super stoked to see all the ways she’s continuing to kill it. So, please, go check out her latest endeavor, and follow the project on everyone’s favorite NSA tool.
And so, without further ado, my responses to the challenge (followed by the people I’m tagging to complete it next!)
What are you working on?
Oh man–what am I not working on right now? I feel like I go through ebbs and flows with writing/creating things, and right now it’s a full-on flood. We’re currently in the middle of wrapping up the 2nd edition of Grief: A Life in 5 Stages, a lit mag that I started last year and debuted at the 2013 Philly ‘Zine fest. After a successful KickStarter at the beginning of the summer, we’ve been working hard to get this next issue together. And I gotta say, I’m hella impressed with the content we’ve received.
Beyond that, I’m gearing up to start working on my Really Big Project–taking all the writing I’ve done about my mom/her early onset Alz’s diagnosis/my feelings/recollections on it and make it a bigger something. Right now it’s in its super early stages, literally just scouring all my writings and copying and pasting everything into one big doc and trying to figure out what I have/what I need to add. People have been saying for years that I need to focus a larger work on something like this, and I think I’m finally ready.
What’s been interesting is seeing how her disease progression has affected all sorts of things in my life–ie, it’s not just this thing happening separate of all my other life events; it’s woven into all the connective tissue. Because of this, I’m finding that perhaps this project isn’t just about my mom and her disease, but maybe a collection of stories from my life that show the direct and indirect ways I’m dealing with it? I honestly don’t know yet. But I’m excited. And terrified? Mainly excited though…We’ll see what happens!
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Well, since I primarily write about my personal experiences, I guess the obvious answer is that I’m the only one telling these particular stories, although certain details might relate to those experienced by other people. I’m really trying to focus on making the stories and feelings I tell relatable and easy to read, even when talking about things that might be less pleasant. My focus in this regard has been the stuff going on in my life realm: Alzheimer’s disease, more recently divorce, and more generally, the great I Don’t Know What I’m Doing With My Life/What I’m Supposed to Be Doing. Admittedly, it was difficult for me to get to the point where I was comfortable having those conversations, but the more time I’ve spent grappling these various topics, the more I realized that a lot of other people were dealing with similar, and oftentimes more difficult, situations. The willingness to be upfront and honest about the shit I’m going through and how I feel about it have enabled some really thoughtful and inspiring dialogue.
Why do you write what you do?
Similar to Kate, I’m big on “writing what I know.” I actually struggled with this for some time–I went to college with the hope of one day becoming the Next Great Writer, but didn’t really have a lot of direction/idea for how I wanted to make that happen. When my mom got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after my 22nd birthday, writing about what was going on not only became a source of comfort, but it also provided me a structure focus for my writing. And the stuff I wrote then was probably the most compelling, but I really struggled with the idea of telling a story that wasn’t entirely my own and that was so incredibly personal. So I kind of just stopped publicly writing about it and tried to focus on other topics that interest me that weren’t as vulnerable. That’s when I pretty much just stopped blogging. It took a long time to reconcile that, and admittedly, it’s something I’m still working through, but I feel like I’m feeling more confident/comfortable in telling the story that’s my own.
How does your writing process work?
Haha. Shit. I wish I had a better answer for this. I always feel like people have these really smart/”right”-sounding methods with structure and discipline. I think even though I’ve always loved writing, always identified myself as a writer, I never really considered the amount of effort and discipline that really goes into really doing it well. Writing takes time, and work, and a tremendous self-awareness and the ability to look past your own bullshit. Like, I’ll write something and it’ll be like, “OK, that sounds good,” but then I’m like, “but is that really what I mean, or am I stringing together words that sounds like they can be compelling?” It can be hard to call yourself on your own bullshit sometimes, but it’s absolutely necessary.
I’m trying to get better at carving out time, but usually I write when inspiration hits. Something will pop into my head unexpectedly–when I’m driving or before I fall asleep or hanging out with friends. I try to jot down these thoughts/ideas if I can. I have hundreds of notes on my phone–scraps of an idea, a phrase–and quite a few envelopes with random scribbles.
There are bigger thoughts/ideas that I become obsessively locked on, and they’ll be pretty persistent for a while–constantly humming in the back of my brain, sometimes for days, sometimes weeks. When that happens, I know I only have a small window of time to write about that thing before it starts to deflate. I seriously have dozens of aborted blog posts that started off awesome, but weren’t finished before the electricity left, rendering them almost impossible to finish. My goal these days are to get it all out when I’m in the obsessive/muse-stricken mode and then go back and do the more disciplined review/edit later after it’s been successfully extracted.
I’m also trying to spend more time reading. It’s so easy to lose the time to do that, but I’m understanding more and more how important it is to know what others are doing/thinking. It provided easy inspiration, helps build a solid foundation for my own work, and gives me an idea of where my voice fits in the choir.
Alright, time now for my tags: Chris (my former teacher, and longtime writing sensei–one of the first people who told me “you are a writer–keep doing this), Kate and Lindsay, my lit project soulmates–we’ve worked on projects together since college, and they continue to be the people I call on (and who call on me) whenever lit mag inspiration hits; and Kevin, who claims his blog is pathetic, but it’s pretty alright.