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My Writing Process

April 14, 2014

Writers, and their relationship with the page, fascinate me.  Getting to peek behind the finished words of writers I admire–to see their beginnings, middles and ends — is such a treat. So when the Writing Process Blog Tour started, I gulped up the passages. I was especially tickled when Kristen Levithan at Motherese asked me to participate. Kristen is a light for me — her writing is beautiful, honest and intelligent. I often nod as I read, thinking, Oh, me too, me too. Our blogship blossomed to friendship, and knowing she’s out there in my world softens my edges and my heart.

And so, I bring you my Writing Process:
1.) What am I working on?
I’m working on writing. Regularly. After months of prioritizing other things, my writing muscles were atrophied. I’m finally writing more regularly and it feels good. Really good.
I’ve got the beginnings of a novel that continues to percolate; I believe I’ll write it some day. For now, I enjoy having the story and the characters in my pocket, wondering how it will all turn out for them. I just need to find the time that is right for me to do so.
During our move, I’d write a lot for myself. I was surprised to find poems on the page when I was done. I always feel like a kid careening in my mom’s high-heeled shoes when I write poetry–like I don’t quite yet have the gams for it. But maybe, with practice, it will take shape and it will come.
I am most comfortable with essays for now. I have several ideas that I hope to pitch as well.  Now that I have a bit of exposure to the publishing world, I know that this endeavor can take many, MANY months from start to finish. I just keep on trying.
2.) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a question I have difficulty answering. But if I was pressed to answer, I’d say this: it’s different because it’s written by me, through my layers of living, through my lens. And that perspective is uniquely mine. I try to write my truth, from that quiet, shrouded place within, and share something that will hopefully resonate with others. I feel that the more people share their truth about living, the better life will be for all of us. The writers I read on a regular basis do this for me and I hope that readers will find the same solace in my words.
3.) Why do I write what I do?
I started writing to capture my children’s lives for my husband who was traveling extensively. As it turned out, I started to write for him and the person I ended up really writing for was me. Now, I write to understand. Writing has become as critical to my happiness as a pounding run or a sweaty yoga session. I write about the things that capture my interest, those topics that raise their hands and don’t stop until I’ve explored them. And, those posts I write that seem to be the grittiest are those seem to resonate the most with others. The complexity of life is the universality we all share.
4.) How does my writing process work?
My writing is usually fueled by Diet Coke from McDonald’s. Not from a can. Not from a bottle, but thanks for offering. From a large plastic cup and a straw and mmmmmmmmm when those first bubbles hit my tongue, Nirvana!
When I’m lucky, my writing starts with a spark (unless there is no spark–see below). An idea will ripple through, coursing with either question or truth. There’s a magic about those first ideas that bring a warm glow, like whiskey once it’s reached your belly. I’ll rush to jot it down wherever I can–the compact notebook I carry in my ridiculously large bag, a receipt, an email to myself. I’ve tons of scraps of paper holding sentences started, ideas captured.
After the rush, I then I sit with the hard work of building something more, more substantial, more meaty, more gritty, beyond that of first love and more like a solid marriage, applying diligent work, kindness and patience. That’s when my wicked avoidance skills kick in. Dusting my desk and bookcase. Washing snow pants. Push ups. Sharpening pencils.
There’s this funny thing that happens to me when I’m writing and I hit a block, like a clogged drain. I step away to take a break. As soon as I’m doing the other thing–driving, folding, etc–the words I needed, or the insight I sought, suddenly barrel down on me in full sentences.  Ha Ha! I usually think, shaking my fist at the sky, Oh sure, come to me when I can’t capture you! When I’m driving in heavy traffic! Oh, creativity, you insolent wench! After I’m done talking to myself and madly gesturing to the sky, I scurry to capture those sentences. And sometimes, they’re actually as good I thought they might be.
Most times, during the writing of anything, I feel that feeling that every writer before me has felt–This is shit, I won’t be able to make it come together, who wants to read this dither, blah blah blah and I’ve come to begrudgingly recognize it as part of my process. I persevere, and write and edit and edit and write until it’s a piece of work of which I am proud.
When there’s no spark, and when I have nothing, that is when (not surprisingly), it is the very, very hardest to write. I’ve recently made a switch and started to follow two pieces of advice from Dani Shapiro. (If you ever get a chance to study with this talented, kind and beautiful woman, please do so. I’ve studied with her several times and count my lucky stars that I did.)
1. Long Hand. Dani writes, in Still Writing,
“…the screen can make our work look neat and tidy–finished–before it is. … If you’ve never tried it, see what happens if you write a draft of something longhand. Before long, you’ll be forced to x out whole sentences. You’ll draw circles and asterisks and arrows. You’ll change your mind about what you’ve crossed out, and write “stet” in the margin. It will look messy, because it is messy. It should be that: a beautiful, complicated mess.”
And so, for the last month, I’ve been doing just that. I like it. It gives me the freedom to be messy and let the words flow. It helps me stop worrying about perfect writing and allows me to get down to the business of actually writing.
2. Join the Symphony. The other piece of Dani’s advice that I religiously follow is this: “Fill your ears with the music of good sentences, and when you finally approach the page yourself, that music will carry you.”
I used to try not to read the work of others before I wrote, for fear it would cause me to unwittingly copy their style. Now, since Dani gave me permission, I devour the words of others and steep in the ancient tradition of writers–people honoring their questions and then, trying humbly to do the same. Word by word.
Next week, the Writing Process Tour continues….
Tracy Morrison, Sellabit Mum
Tracy and I have gotten to know each other during our This Is Childhood series and shit howdy am I glad we did. Her writing sits in that unique space which is simultaneously powerful, thoughtful and funny. She makes me laugh and think at the same time.  She is, in her words, “a mom to three girls, wife to one husband and owner to 2 cats 1 cat (poor Tyko). …. I started blogging in 2008 after I realized my kids never laughed at my jokes and I needed a new audience. Even though many days my kids make me go crazy in my head, I still know that I am where I am supposed to be. Right now. In my spare time, I try to make new mothering in my 40s sexy but my body laughs about that. Maybe my husband does too. Thank goodness we mostly have the lights off.”
Be sure to check out her post next week on Monday, April 21.
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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Gail permalink
    April 14, 2014 3:39 pm

    “Not from a bottle, but thanks for offering” ?!?! HILARIOUS. Thanks for the laugh and fantastic insight into the genius of a writing pro. 🙂 🙂 🙂 xxx

  2. elissa stein permalink
    April 14, 2014 10:46 pm

    Loved this and loved imagining these words coming out of your mouth.

    I have officially joined a women’s writing group. Meets weekly, feels so good.

    How are you? I wonder how you are doing with all that is going on with Lisa…..

    Xx

    Elissa Stein, MA, LMFT Individual, Couples, Family Therapy 666 Glenbrook Rd, 2c Stamford, Ct 06906 2033293759

  3. April 14, 2014 11:06 pm

    Really love this. I too love to hear other writers stories of “How do they do that!”. Yours is an honest, entertaining story. And, you are totally spot on in making sure it is known that the more writing done from the heart, from that vulnerable, untapped, beautiful, wealth of knowledge within, the better our world will be. Oh and I was laughing out loud at you cursing creativity in heavy traffic! I can totally relate, what is it with that? I find I write, or at least the flow lasts longer, when I write on paper first. I love the messy look of my thoughts and new ideas all crossed out, written in bold, tiny above other words. Writing is awesome.

  4. April 15, 2014 2:56 pm

    Denise, I so loved this! You made me laugh with McDonald’s soda and the push-ups and the truth about how creativity always comes when we aren’t anywhere near a pen. I love the idea of writing longhand. I only do that in my journal. Thank you so much for this insight into your process and your days.

  5. April 21, 2014 4:44 pm

    I have no idea how I missed this! But glad I found it today. And you know how I feel about the fountain Diet Coke … I love it almost as much as I love your writing. xoxoxox

  6. June 6, 2014 6:14 pm

    Denise, this is beautiful. I love this: “Now, I write to understand. Writing has become as critical to my happiness as a pounding run or a sweaty yoga session.” I am with you on this completely (although I no longer run). My husband travels a lot too and so appreciate how you initially wrote for him but realized that you are really writing for you. Also, I loved your Piece in This is Childhood! Enjoy the moments! XO

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