My Writing Process

Apr 07

Fascinated as I am by the work habits and routines of fellow writers, I’ve been greatly enjoying the “My Writing Process” meme that’s making its way around the blogosphere. So I was delighted when the very talented Andrea Lani invited me to join in and talk a little bit about my writing.

Like so many of us here, Andrea and I met online. I don’t remember when I started reading her blog, Remains of the Day, or when she started reading mine, but I also can’t remember a time when I was blogging and didn’t know her. A recent MFA graduate, Andrea is a writer and mother of three. In her poetry (she’s in the midst of a month of poetry now), short stories, and nonfiction, she focuses on nature, motherhood, and how the two intersect. I have long been a fan of her smart, honest, no-nonsense approach to her writing and reading. You can read more about her and her writing here.

Thanks for inviting me to play along, Andrea!

And now my thoughts:

1)     What am I working on?

My big project (for now and the foreseeable future) is a non-fiction book about mother-writers. Originally I conceived of the book as a collection of literary biographies, organized thematically. The feedback that I’ve gotten so far, though, is to bring more of myself into the book, weaving the story of how I became a mother and a writer in with the stories of mother-writers before me. Telling other people’s stories is easy for me. Telling my own is harder. So I’m working now on leaning in to that harder stuff.

Many of my hours, though, are taken up by freelance assignments and more and more of those seem to be book reviews, which is a-okay with me. Getting to read a great book and then getting paid to write about it? Yes, please.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think my obsession with history, and especially women’s history and the history of motherhood, gives my work a unique spin. I’m also very interested in contemporary culture and public policy and you’ll often see those conversations in my work. The goal of my writing – which I hadn’t really thought about until now – is to use my own experiences to give context to these larger historical and cultural currents, to tell my own motherhood story, sure, but also to use that story to shine a light on larger themes that are (hopefully!) relatable to lots of people.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

To be blunt, I write a lot of what I do because that’s my job. That being said, though, a few years into my freelancing career, I know what my niches are and I don’t pitch anything or accept any assignment that I’m not in some way excited about – either because the material is something I’m genuinely interested in or because I think I can learn something new from the assignment (whether that’s topical, like a piece I did once on personal finance, or procedural, like learning how to use new transcription software).

For my personal writing, which, at this point, is here on the blog, nonfiction essays I write and hope to sell, and my book, I often write, to paraphrase Joan Didion, to know what I think. Writing is the way that I make sense of the world, the way I give ideas and themes shape and structure. My life right now is that of a wife, a mother of three young children, and a nonfiction writer. My subject is that life and I write to figure out what it’s all about and how it connects me to a larger community.

4)     How does my writing process work?

My writing process usually begins with doing anything and everything I can to avoid getting started. I organize my pens. I start a load of laundry. I check the Internet to see if any school other than UConn has ever won the national championship in men and women’s basketball in the same year. (No, no one else has, because no one else is made of Pure Awesome. And UConn could do it again this year! But I digress…)

After ten minutes of futzing, I start. I sit at my desk, four days a week, until lunchtime. Some days all I’ll have to show for it is 250 words of garbled prose. Sometimes I’ll have 2000 I can live with. Some weeks the kids are sick or everybody has dentist appointments and I don’t spend much time in my chair. But I find that it’s really about the sitting. When I sit, I write. When I don’t, I don’t.

Next up on the My Writing Process blog tour:

Jenn Meer of My Jenn-eration: Although I have been lucky to meet several of my blogging friends in person, I believe Jenn is my first blogging friend who was an in-person friend first. In addition to being a wise, funny, supportive friend and the mother of three gorgeous children (including the world’s most delectable newborn), Jenn is a beautiful writer whose work has been featured at The Stir, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Kveller, and Mamalode.

Denise Ullem of Universal Grit: A self-described ponderer, noticer of small details, and spelunker of emotion, Denise writes honest, warm, gritty essays about life as a woman, partner, and mother of two. Her sweet, resonant essay “Perfectly Imperfect” appears in this month’s issue of Parents magazine and her work has appeared at The Huffington Post, in Little Rock Family Magazine, and in the collections From the Heart and This Is Childhood.

Speaking of which…

It seems fitting that, on the day I write about my writing process, I get to share with you the news that, This Is ChildhoodBrain, Child magazine’s first book, is now available for purchase.

This Is Childhood cover

I’m proud that my writing, including an essay I wrote to honor my daughter, is featured in this collection alongside the work of some of my favorite mother-writers, Aidan Donnelley Rowley, Nina Badzin, Galit Breen, Allison Slater Tate, Bethany Meyer, Tracy Morrison, Amanda Magee, Denise Ullem, and Lindsey Mead. Along with heart-wrenching, heart-warming essays on each age of childhood from one to ten, the book includes writing prompts and space for parents to record their own memories of each age, making it the perfect gift that will become the perfect keepsake.

I hope you’ll consider buying one for yourself – and for a friend!