A writer’s process

I was tagged months ago in the Writer’s Process Blog Tour Project by Tiffany Clark Harrison, a writer I admire but whose web page seems to be defunct, and Sylvie Morgan Brown. Sylvie is an ex-colleague-turned-friend through this online writing world, and I adore the way she writes, especially when she writes about food. She’s one of those rare breeds who can spin the task of cooking into a savory story of texture, aroma, ambiance, and history. By the time you’ve finished reading one of her posts, you can’t help but feel nourished.

I am forever interested in the writing process. Reading about the ways other writers approach the blank page is like glimpsing a secret of the writer’s heart, and I would love to get a peek into the process by two writers who I’ve had the great fortune of discovering through this blogging world: Dina L. Relles and Wendy Bradford. Dina and Wendy, if you haven’t already participated in this tour, I would love to read your responses to the below questions.

What am I working on?

I wrote my first book on the blank pages of one of those white hardback books you get in school (do they still do that?). I must have been in first or second grade. I don’t remember what it was about, really. I only remember drawing and coloring dozens of bears on the pages because I had decided I was quite good at drawing bears. Whether or not the bears had anything to do with the story I couldn’t tell you, though I’m inclined to think not. I thought this book was an opus, the next great American novel (had I known such a thing existed at the time), no matter that it was not actually a novel, not really a story at all probably, the story arc more of a flat line, the climax nonexistent.

I was always writing and scribbling on anything I could find. My head has always been cluttered with stories, my ears attuned to the lilt and cadence of words, my mind working to structure sentences the way one configures a jigsaw puzzle. I have always loved the way ink glides across paper. I love the way pages can speak, how characters can become as real as your closest friend, and the way that sometimes after you’ve finished a book you realize you’ve found an answer to something you didn’t even know you had been asking. There are the books that leave you asking more questions, asking you to think a little more, dig a little deeper than what’s comfortable or safe, and those are good too. And then there are the ones that stick long after “the end”, the ones you return to time and again to read cover to cover or to search for a specific passage or just to feel the familiar weight in your hands.

My parents had an old roll top desk in the living room of my childhood home, and at some point I walked into the room to find its contents spilled onto the floor, piles of paper and full-to-bursting file folders sprinkling the carpet so that I could scarcely walk without feeling the crush of paper beneath my feet. I sat in the middle of the room and began to pick through the papers. They were stories and poems, all of them written by my mother. This connection between my penchant for stringing words across paper and the realization that my mother did the same planted the seed that writing was an actual thing to do. That authors aren’t, in fact, magical beings granted with the gift of impeccable storytelling. They don’t cast spells in their attics and emerge at daybreak with a tome inked between hardback covers. They are just people. Mothers, even. It would be years before any of her work was published, and years after that until I would learn that she did this by sneaking down to our unfinished basement late at night — gloves on her hands if it was winter — to toil away on her typewriter for hours. With two kids and a business to help run (my father’s), writing during waking hours was a joke, so she sacrificed sleep.

This is what I’m working on. Intentional writing takes sacrifice.

More to the point, I’m working on a variety of children’s book manuscripts (picture book through YA) and finally dipping my toes into submitting parenting/motherhood essays to various publications.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure that it does. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but only in the last five years or so have I been deliberate in studying the craft of the novel and the art of picture book writing. I’ve learned to read and think and see like a writer, and once that happens, once your senses are attuned to the tempo and pulse of everything around you, it’s difficult to turn that off. The person can no longer be separated from the writer. I used to laugh at my mom who would, in the middle of a conversation, grab a napkin or post-it or scrap of paper and start scribbling words or an idea, but now I do the same thing. It’s this heightened sense of awareness that leads me to believe I’m finally ready to focus on my writing in a consistent, purposeful, and honest way, and I can only hope that this will show through in my writing.

Why do I write what I do?

I focus on writing for children because I love children’s literature. I love the art form of the picture book, the fun, quirky characters in chapter books and middle grade novels, and the coming of age stories in young adult novels. When author John Green was asked why he writes for young adults, he said something along the lines of, “Because I think they’re more interesting than adults.” Young adults are in the business of discovering who they are and who they hope to become and why they’re even here in this life walking the path they’re walking. And they’re mostly getting it wrong. Their lives, by nature, are wrought with tension and texture and drama, and I think we can all still access that time of life. Great YA novels are able to pinpoint the passage from child to adult to a painful, telling, scrupulous, and candid degree, exposing those things about ourselves that have long been buried or lain dormant and revealing truths that perhaps we had forgotten.

Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” And this speaks profoundly to why I write about parenting and motherhood. I’m stumbling through the dark without a map for guidance, as we all are, and writing about my experiences as a mother and my relationship with my children is my way of processing this magnificent, turbulent, frustrating, taxing, enchanting,  pinch-me journey.

How does your writing process work?

This question is funny to me because it implies function with result, and most of the time I feel like I am floundering through something until it somehow, someway begins to take some kind of shape. I’m only just realizing and getting comfortable with the fact that this is the way I write. Organically. My ideas usually begin with a bit of dialogue or a splice of a scene. Sometimes a word, sometimes an image. I’m not an outliner, though I’ve tried to be one. I’ve taken classes and read books and articles on outlining, but it just doesn’t work for me.

I’m working on a little bit of everything, and that seems to be a problem. I have so many ideas and started drafts for both fictional works as well as blog posts and essays that when I have the time to sit down and focus on writing I don’t know where to start. I freeze. Or I try to do a little with this, a little with that, and before I know it two hours have passed and I’ve written an inch in five documents when probably could have written a mile had I focused on just one. Clearly, my writing process is a work in progress, but as long as I keep showing up I think I’ll find my way.

writing process

What no non-writer can ever understand is that a writer is working even when she’s staring at the sky.

Posted in Blogging, Books & Writing | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Wistfulness Becomes Me

“Pity me that the heart is slow to learn what the swift mind beholds at every turn.”      

Edna St. Vincent Millay certainly wasn’t considering the seasons of motherhood when she penned those words, but this line has been going through my head lately as summer wanes into the first days and weeks of school, the first blush of fall, the first nights of settling into a routine that feels both familiar and new. I say it to myself as a “Get a hold of yourself” mantra when this growing up* business gets to feeling a little too heavy, when the cyclical milestones leave me a little breathless even though I know they are coming, even as I steel myself against them.

*By “growing up” I mean, of course, the kids.**

**Or maybe I mean all of us.

September brings with it a knowing sense that the new will soon become as intimate as the familiar once was novel, and this makes the passage of time all the more evident. And with this evidence an undeniable ache in the heart that is slow to learn.

Pity me not because the light of day

At close of day no longer walks the sky;

Logistically, we know that there will be a last day of summer and a first day of school. We know the surface sting of the constant march of time, we know that we can’t slow it down, that the best we can do is to keep up with it, to stand in the red hot center of it as best we can. Give gratitude for the moment, for all of these moments that have added up to one full, blessed journey, and for the moments that will continue to fill us up, moments of blinding joy that we can’t yet fathom. That’s the best we can do. Our minds know this.

But our hearts. Oh, our hearts.

We watch our daughter weave into the crowd and mayhem of students, leaving us with a confident wave and an air kiss goodbye, and our hearts remember the first time. That first kiss. The first time she grabbed our face with both hands and planted a full, slobbery smack on our lips.

We watch our son from the fringe of the playground as another sandbox dweller takes his shovel, and our hearts remember his cries from the moment we first held him in our arms, the way his pinched face looked bewildered and shocked as we lay chest to chest, much the way it does now at the injustice perpetrated against him.

We listen to our daughter read fluidly, effortlessly, and our hearts remember when she climbed onto our laps with her favorite book and pointed to pictures with her chubby fingers until the featherweight ghost of yesteryear settles upon our thighs and words we memorized once upon a time come bubbling from our lips like a forgotten nursery rhyme.

We watch our son take a baseball to the cheek, and our hearts cry out to run to him. Our hearts remember scooping him up and sitting him on the kitchen counter with an ice pack and band-aids as he cradled his blanket and rested his head on the tear-stained shoulder of our shirt.

Our minds remember that we once lived whole, full, happy lives without and unaware of the company of those who’ve become our tribe, but our hearts remember the midnight skin-to-skin, the silky tufts of hair below our noses, the feather-down weight of a newborn and the off-balance shifting weight of a toddler, and the soft skin that stretches across the map of their bones, the topography of which we’ve all but memorized.

Pity me not the waning of the moon,

Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea…

Our minds watch their legs — long and lean and leaving us slowly — and our hearts remember baby thighs doughy as loaves of bread.

Our minds watch them score a soccer goal and our hearts remember the step-fall-step-fall rhythm of those miraculous first steps.

Our minds watch them make new friends and new friends turn into best friends and Saturday nights are suddenly for sleepovers, and our hearts remember bedtime stories and nightlights and kisses goodnight and the please-stay-and-lay-with-me-because-I’m-afraid-of-the-dark nights.

Pity me not the ticking of the minute hand as the years go by; I know I can’t stop it. Even if I could, would I choose to?

And miss all that is to come of our one wild and precious life?

Still. Get a hold of yourself.

Wistfulness Becomes Me

Posted in Parenthood | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Message from the moon

message from the moon

Moon breathes

slumber over cities,

fire hydrants,

sweeping rivers,

a rooftop terrace,

a puddle

that shivers.

Its tender light

threads,

weaves

over alleyways,

cafe eaves,

stone cathedrals,

corner clocks,

peeks

through windows

of bakery shops.

On cloudless nights

its polished light

settles on sailboats,

seacoasts,

a cabled bridge….

Moon’s message

f

a

l

l

s,

whispers

….hush….

Message from the moon

moongazers

Message from the Moon (c) 2009 by Lara Anderson, originally appeared in Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard, published by Roaring Brook Press. Not to be preprinted without permission of author.

Posted in Books & Writing, Life, Parenthood | 1 Comment

The swim needs to be hers

I was going to finish my post today for the Writer’s Process Blog Tour Project (I was tagged by Tiffany Clarke Harrison and Sylvie Morgan Brown months ago, but summer intervened and I went skipping out the door for a spin around the season). So that post will be coming later this week.

I found myself over at Hands Free Mama this morning, and as I read Rachel’s post on Knowing Where Your People Are my eyes started to fill. (I’m having one of those days where I feel less than. Less than the mother I should be…less than the wife I should be…less than the daughter/friend/sister/writer I should be, so my emotional wiring might be easily affected today.) The part in Rachel’s post that really got to me was the description of her daughter’s fear at swim practice. I know that fear. Mia still has that fear. After countless lessons and undeniable proof that she can swim, she still lacks confidence in her abilities. She’s still afraid of going under.

As I read Rachel’s words my own brand of fear began to nudge itself into my thoughts and wrap its spindly fingers around memories of past swim lessons until a teeming list of questions invoked defense, and I began to check them off.

Had I assured her that I would be there, right there, watching her, waiting for her? Had I pointed out the life guard and coaches who would be watching her too? Had I told her that she was brave and capable? Had I made eye contact with her when her eyes appeared above the surface of the water and searched for mine? Had I wrapped her in a towel and kissed her cheek and told her how very proud I was of her and how much I love to watch her?

Yes. Yes, I had done all of this at every swim lesson because I knew she needed to hear it. And she got the basics down if somewhat slowly and reluctantly. She can do it. So why am I so overcome with guilt that I’m not able to appease her fear, to raise her confidence?

Because I am not her. It’s an obvious answer but one that I still need to be reminded of occasionally. I can ask questions and tell stories and lift her up and soothe her with kisses and open my arms when she needs shelter, but there will always be parts of her that I can’t reach. She won’t always know how to tether and name the whir of joy-sorrow-passion-fear-ardor-grief-concern that shifts and turns within her. I can hold her hand, but I can’t quiet her mind. I can stand at the edge of the pool and cheer her on, but I can’t take that breath and submerge below the water. I can tell her “I’m here” — your people are right here — but the swim needs to be hers.

Posted in letters to my daughter, Parenthood | 1 Comment

The Epistolary Tooth Fairy

Matter of order: Upper Central Incisor and Lower Lateral Incisor

Dear Mia,

I don’t usually write to kids because it’s strictly forbidden by the Fairy, Fay & Pixie Code.

According to oath #3 in the Book of Enchanted Winglings, fairies and children are strictly forbidden to interact. (Please don’t be upset. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with protecting our magic.) I could get in trouble with the FF&P Board of Authority, but I’m going to take that risk because I believe that sometimes (JUST sometimes) rules can be bent if the person for whom you’re bending the rules really needs your help. And I think you need my help right now.

I know you’re scared. I know you think pulling out your teeth will hurt, and it might. But only for a split second, pinky promise. And I admire the fact that not even your mommy and daddy’s promise of gold coins and foil wrapped chocolate could tempt you into doing something you felt uncomfortable doing. (By the way, the gold coins and chocolate or WHATEVER appears under your pillow is up to ME and me only. There is strict protocol for these things and all trades must be approved by the FF&P Board of Tooth Trade. Your mom and dad have nothing to do with it, though I’m thankful for their belief and support.)

Here’s the thing: those teeth need to come out. They need to come out because the big teeth are ready to push through, and those are lifetime teeth. They’re the important ones. Okay, the baby teeth are important too. Without them how would you have eaten pizza all these years? And apples…and strawberries…and croissants! Imagine the last seven years without croissants. So, yes, baby teeth are important. Speaking from a professional point of view, however, baby teeth are really just holding places for the big teeth. They’re kind of like maps in that they show the big teeth where to go. Once your jaw muscles are big enough and strong enough (and yours are), it’s time for the big teeth to make their grand entrance. You don’t want to deny your lifetime teeth a grand entrance, do you?

Listen, for the past eight nights I have hovered at your window, waiting for you to fall asleep because I was so sure that TODAY WAS THE DAY. I even fell asleep at your windowsill one night, and that windowsill is not soft. My bed at home is made of tulip petals and golden feathers, a blanket of downy moss to keep me warm. I woke up on your windowsill shivering with stiff wings and an ache in my bum. So please, in the name of all that is soft and feathery and warm, do not make me wait any longer. (I should probably tell you that I’m invisible to you, just in case you decide to hold on to those teeth a little longer in the hopes of spying me at your window.)

So here’s my promise to you: Pull those teeth today, and not only will I leave something under your pillow, but I will also leave a little something extra in the fairy tree for you. You know the one.

You can do this because you are brave.

Love,

Your Tooth Fairy

fairy tree, tooth fairy

The fairy tree, courtesy of my father-in-law

Posted in letters to my daughter, Parenthood, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 6 Comments