My friend, the stealthily witty and sometimes devastatingly candid Jamie Krug, tapped me to participate in a blog tour exploring our writing process. I said yes without even seeing the questions, and once I saw them, I was a little intimidated. The past few months, I have felt quiet. I’ve sort of been in the midst of what I call “The Nothing,” a reference (of course!) to The Neverending Story, which I watched only about a million times as a child. Lost in the sea of everyday life and a freelance project that has dragged on forever, I have felt like I am a dry sponge, sapped of my energy and my writing juice. Still, I remind myself, I have been a writer — or at least a person who writes — my whole life. That doesn’t change.
Without further ado…
1. What am I working on?
Everything and nothing. I am working on life at the moment, as we have finished our spring break and I am now on the fast descent into Worst End of School Year Mom Ever Status. I don’t have a singular project I am working on for myself, but like most writers, I think, I can’t help but always be writing even in the middle of my life. I’m always noticing details, words, moments, and sensations that might fuel writing later. In the meantime, I am sporadically publishing in my usual places, like HuffPost Parents and Scary Mommy. I also just wrote a post for Mamalode, which is a new relationship for me and very exciting, as I respect the writing there. I’m going to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop next week, and I’m really hoping I will leave inspired and energized. When I was in elementary and middle school, I stole my mom’s copies of Erma’s books and read them over and over again. She has definitely been a big influence on me, and I am looking forward to spending time around others who feel the same way.
2. How does my writing differ from others of its genre?
That’s the million dollar question for me. Writing about parenting is the new black. One of the thoughts that runs through my head daily — and one that, I know, beckons The Nothing I mentioned above — is the thought that my writing is just like so many others’, and everything has already been written. I keep on not because I think I have something unique to say, but because writing is the only way of processing this experience that makes sense to me, and writing online makes me feel less alone in the journey. I think that I have a relatable voice, and that is one of my biggest strengths as a writer. However, I am not sure that sets me apart. I guess all I can say is that I am writing my own experience, and no experience is exactly the same.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I write about myself and my experience as a woman at this moment in time and in this particular place, and that experience is shaped completely through my role as a mother. Parenting has become such a loaded writing topic, full of navel-gazing and hair-splitting and Bossy McBossiness and Judgey McJudgeypants. I wish I could write about, say, pop culture (another love of mine) and be happy in that space alone and not actually open myself and my family up to the scrutiny of all the people everywhere. The truth is that while I can be inordinately and maybe unjustifiably passionate about pop culture, the experience of parenting and the process of “growing up” — when done both by my children and myself — is what changes me and moves me and makes me want to write, so that is what I write about. That might evolve as I do. I just don’t know.
4. How does my writing process work?
“Process” is a strong word for what I have. As I mentioned above, I am always noticing. That, I think, is the biggest part of my “process.” Without the details and sensations and words that I take note of and remember, my writing does not exist. It starts in my head, where all these “notes” knock around and stick with me until I finally sit down and release them. When I am writing something more structured or prescribed, I am not much more formal about my process, I am afraid. My life is about winging it, and so far, that has applied to my writing, too. Some nights, I escape to Starbucks and write there, a soundtrack of songs that are important to me floating through my earbuds (the Indigo Girls, Paul Simon, Billy Joel). But most of the time, I’m writing in my bed, my laptop perched on my knees, while children run amok through my bedroom and my husband watches procedural TV shows ad nauseam. When a post is burning in my brain, it doesn’t matter — I can focus amidst the chaos. I have tried getting up insanely early to start a writing “habit,” like so many of my writer friends (including Jamie!). But then I need a nap by 10 am, which doesn’t work in my life or with my toddler. I also stay up past my bedtime many nights and write once the house is finally quiet and settled. That seems to be when my brain allows me to access the areas not directly related to diapers, first grade homework, and laundry. Bottom line: my “process” is not really a process, but it mostly works for me. I think I am afraid to mess with that.
Part of the blog hop is asking two more writers to answer these questions. I immediately thought of Kristin Shaw of Two Cannoli, a woman that I adore both as a writer and a friend. Kristin is a rare, genuinely wonderful soul and in the words of my favorite Anne of Green Gables, a kindred spirit. She writes beautiful, emotional essays about relationships on her blog and elsewhere, and she somehow does it while working part-time and and acting as a wife, mother, and active community member in Austin. Currently, she’s producing Listen to Your Mother in Austin, which is a perfect role for her because she is a great connector of writers and women and makes everyone feel safe and welcome to share their own gifts.
I am also excited that Anna Whiston-Donaldson of An Inch of Gray accepted my invitation to write about her own process. I first heard of Anna when The Mom Stays in the Picture ran on the Huffington Post and she submitted a picture of herself with her children, Jack and Margaret. It was the last picture she had with both her children, as Jack passed away soon after the picture was taken in a terrible accident. I have immense respect for Anna and the way she has processed her grief, sometimes through writing, sometimes through acts of charity. She has strength and grace that awe me. I am curious to know how she writes about topics that I cannot imagine confronting and writing. Her writing is truly a gift.
Kristin and Anna will post their own answers next Monday on their own blogs. In the meantime, be sure to also check out my friend Lindsey Mead’s answers to the same questions today at A Design So Vast. Lindsey is an incredible writer, and I am eager to peek inside her process!