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.


5 thoughts on “A writer’s process

  1. Dina L. Relles says:

    I always love your writing–and your writing on writing is no exception. Thank you for this window into your world. I’m honored to be next up! (Though it may take a week or few… 😉

    p.s. same here as far as outlining goes…ah well.

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