Once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer. As a voracious reader, and avid lover of books, it seemed obvious to me that I would one day write a novel. I can’t really say at what point this dream faded, but I would be surprised if I ever got down to writing a novel. I don’t have a driving need to do so. I might some day explore writing shorter works, such as a children’s picture book. (I do love picture books.) Or perhaps something even shorter, like a greeting card. (I don’t much like greeting cards.) What I have discovered is that I do enjoy putting together words, and this blog is the place where I most like to put them together.
My friend Sarah, who currently posts at Splitting Infinitives, is a phenomenal writer, and I don’t say that lightly. I was therefore enormously flattered that she asked me to participate in a meme to explore the writing process.¹ Sarah’s way of putting words together gives me great pleasure, and the content of her writing regularly makes me think. I very much enjoyed reading her reflections on her own writing process.
In any case, she passed along these 4 questions, and I have put a bit of time into answering them.
1) What are you working on?
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
3) Why do you write what you do?
4) How does your writing process work?
What I am working on is a lot of academic writing. My goal is to finish my degree requirements, as well as submit papers to journals and conferences. The big thing, of course, is the dissertation, though I am not officially working on that yet. I have a few more loose ends to tie up, after which I will assemble previously constructed chunks of my research and stitch them together with a few yet-to-be completed chunks of research, then infuse this mass with my sweat, tears and lifeblood. Finally, I will run large currents of electricity through the resulting body of work in hopes that it will take on life. (And that it won’t get driven out of town by villagers bearing torches and pitchforks.)
As for the personal writing, I wouldn’t say that I am actually working on anything. Actually, that’s sort of the point. It is not work. What writing I do is for the pleasure of it.
I don’t really know what my genre is. Much as I love to categorize things, I hate to feel categorized myself. At least not into a single category. This blog in particular is a means for me to express the various aspects of my life and personality, and allows me to present myself as more than just “mother,” or “grad student,” or “feminist.” I am all of these thing and more. I explore many topics, and many forms. Perhaps my genre is “eclectic personal blogging.”
I sometimes wonder if my mind works differently than other people’s. I am constantly collecting things: facts, images, words, themes, ideas. At some point, something will trigger an idea, and my mind races to fit all the related bits with it, and display (or sometimes build) a pattern.
For example, I take a lot of photos of things in my environment. Sometimes it’s pretty leaves and flowers, but also cracks in the sidewalk and water drops on the windshield, or frozen puddles. Hydrants I pass on the street…rusty dumpsters…brick walls. Shadows, reflections, signs, clouds. Sometimes I will take a picture and it will remind me of a picture I took once before, even years previously, and I will group the photos together. Sometimes I will then seek out additional images to fill out the pattern. (I have this strange but compelling compulsion to collect things in group of at least 3. More is fine, but 2 somehow seems like only the suggestion of a pattern’s beginning.)
I don’t always feel the need to share patterns when I find and build them. Sometimes I file things away for future use. My iPhoto library contains a hive of folders with related sets. I have also been adding tags and metadata to the photos for years so that if I want to, for example, find photos that I like that prominently feature shadows or gates (or shadows of gates), I can find them. The keywords are not infinite, but somehow express my personal lexicon of imagery.
Sometimes I am similarly compelled to make a list. For a long time, I would post my Themed Things Thursday lists with great regularity. The chosen themes would sometimes relate to a nearby holiday or date, or just be inspired by a pattern I’d noticed. (Separate and distinctive things I have known or observed with some sort of feature in common: blue people or stories with peaches or fight scenes in subways.) Once my mind has caught the beginnings of a pattern, it will nag at me until I have sifted through my memories and my knowledge for things on the theme. Often, I will just jot down the skeleton of the list and be done with it. I currently have saved (in the drafts of my Mail application, to be specific) 48 partial ThThTh lists, in varying stages of completion. If I feel compelled to see the list through to a post, then things take longer. I will do some web searches, mostly to find iconic images, and I might poke around Wikipedia to flesh out a theme. Mostly, though, I don’t post those lists any more. They take a lot of time for formatting and fact checking and finding and sourcing images, and the returns on this time investment are not significantly greater than the satisfaction I get just from jotting down the list.
The process for other creative posts is sometimes similar, whether it’s for another list-form post, or one in more of an essay form, or even the occasional poem. I like to play with words and idioms, and come up with expressions that are relating to specific words. (Case in point: pants.) Sometimes I will share a set of pictures that work together to tell a story.
Along with these collections of related words or images, I will write things as the mood strikes. I write posts that help me see humor when my life otherwise seems overwhelming. (My last American Hovel Magazine post was written when I was feeling crushed by the chaos in my life and depressed by the lack of progress in my degree. I wanted to just sit in the fetal position. Writing about the mess in a way that made me laugh helped me keep going.) Other times I write stories because I want to preserve memories (of my travels, my childhood, my children). Sometimes I just want to work through my thoughts on current events.
Above all, I love to run with themes. I find my blogging the most satisfying when the themes are ongoing or recurring. It allows me to feel like I am creating something of complex and interweaving patterns: a bizarre tapestry of puns and photos and lists and pants. For this reason, my blog may be confusing to those who happen upon it. They will see a given post, and think that it somehow represents “what I write about.” But it will often be just a single thread that forms part of a bigger picture, tangled though it may be. (In case it is not clear, I also like to play with metaphors.)
I do all of my actual writing on my laptop, as well as the photo editing and sorting, while sitting in the dent I have worn in my couch cushions. The creative process, though, happens all the time. My eyes and ears are always alert for new patterns. My thoughts wander to things I want to write about while I am going about other mundane business. I might be stuck in traffic and coming up with cooking metaphors, or cooking dinner and coming up with a list of driving metaphors. I might be doing laundry and mentally making a list of shark movies. (Or doing laundry and making a list of laundry songs.)
Many posts never make it into writing, others have never proceeded past the draft stage. I try to edit well, but I am a slow editor, and sometimes I sacrifice editing in order to post. I aim to keep my posts short in words, and try to rarely exceed 500 words if I want other people to read my words.² Sometimes I will post longer things, but I accept that these are mostly written for me. It’s gravy if someone else takes the time to read what I’ve written.³
Next week, Stacie is going to take up the baton to explore her writing process. Stacie is an amazing writer, and like Sarah, has a way of putting together words that makes me want to savor them. Her writing at her blog If you want kin, you must plant kin, too, always gets me thinking. (It’s funny to realize that I actually somewhat group Stacie and Sarah together as writers whose stories, some fiction and some short memoir, have reminded me of Rumer Godden, one of my all-time favorite authors.) Stacie has been branching out into writing and drawing comics as memoir form. She has shared a few episodes of Adventures in Racism on her blog, and they are sharply witty and thought-provoking. This summer, she will further develop this project at a workshop on graphic novels. (Please check out her Indiegogo campaign to help get her out to the workshop, which is across the country from her.)
I’m afraid I have to break the rules of this meme, which asks for us to find 2 people to pass the meme onto. I am only offering up one writer for next week. (I also had trouble limiting my bio of her to one sentence. I suppose I could have done so, with an egregiously long sentence…) If anyone reading this would like to explore and share their own creative processes for blogging (or other writing), please do! I will gladly link to you and sing your praises. (Though I may not actually sing.)
¹ Secretly, I think it is because I scored points for always gushing over how much I love her writing.
² The 500-word limit is based on the maximum length of abstracts for many academic conferences. This seems to be one of the ways that being an academic seeps through my writing. Footnotes are another
³ This post is one of those excessivley long ones. I apologize for the length of this post, as I did not hvae time to make it shorter.