“Act as if you’re a writer. Sit down and begin. Act as if you might just create something beautiful, and by beautiful I mean something authentic and universal.”
- Dani Shapiro, Still Writing
I’ve been invited by Lara Anderson to participate in the writing process blog tour. Lara is a gorgeous writer whose words always touch something deep within me and make me gasp with their beauty and truth. I’m so grateful our paths have crossed in this writing world, and I’m touched she tapped me to participate next.
I have loved reading about other writers’ processes—and many times, these posts led me to some of my now favorite writers (or led me to love them more)—like Lauren, Lindsey, Debra, Zsofi, Amanda, Jessica, and Denise, to name (more than) a few. I’m humbled (and a bit intimidated) to take my turn…
What am I working on?
Although I’ve kept (what I refuse to call) a journal for most of my life, I’ve only recently begun writing regularly, in a deliberate way, with purpose and finished pieces and publications. Until about a year ago, the demands of home and work felt paramount.
At first, I felt compelled to submit, submit, submit to every place I could think of, everywhere I saw the work of writers I admire. I was driven by a need for legitimacy and clout as much as my signature impatience—both a great virtue and vice. I was hardwired to seek validation by some objective metric.
Eventually, the thrill of exposure waned and in its wake, I was left with a deep love of the process and a handful of really brilliant writers to follow and befriend. What I loved most was the writing itself. Stringing the words together. Creating something that revealed my heart. Connecting with others through words.
Most days I feel like a fraud. My legal training was highly formal; surely I can’t wake up one morning and simply declare myself a writer? No, I’m no writer. Often, it seems, I churn out muck. Who are these gracious people showing up, reading my words?
But I love it. I can’t stop. As Gloria Steinem said, “Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
Am I allowed to love it this much? Am I allowed to do this? Is this a thing?
I’m working on finding out.
I always have several draft essays in the works—either for this blog or to submit elsewhere. If a piece is more personal or less linear, I’ll put it here. If I think it could have more mass appeal or fits well with another site’s voice, I’ll pitch it. Lately, I’ve enjoyed publishing more on my own site because I can control the content and timing. I have no schedule for when or how often I post on this blog—I write when I have something to say, and I hit publish when I feel it’s finished.
I’m also mustering the courage to start what I affectionately call, “The Book I’ll Never Write.” It would be memoir-esque about my complicated relationship with religion and love, faith and philosophy…and in my mind, it’s all so cathartic and profound…but forget I said anything; I don’t think I’ll ever get up the guts…
For now, I’m slowly working on an essay that skims the surface of all this—of what I believe to be my story if I ever had one. It feels, in short, like what I’m meant to be working on.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Oh goodness, I don’t know. Does it have to?
At times I feel insufferably generic, but I truly believe everyone has a story to tell and only they can tell it.
And I love that there are kindred writers in my world—their words fill my days. Theirs are the voices in my head pushing me to do better, go deeper. They help me see what’s possible.
Why do I write what I do?
I write mostly about the small, mundane moments of my day-to-day life as a mother of young sons because this is my now. It’s what I’ve got. But writing about it, I’ve found, helps me not wish it away, not miss the meaning in this messy life. I like to find the story in the ordinary day.
I write to find comfort in the commonality of it all—we’re all in our own homes, going about our separate, solitary lives, but maybe, just maybe you’ve felt this way too? You’re out there walking alongside me, even from many miles away? Even if we’ve never met?
I try to write authentically about my own ordinary existence and hope it resonates with others.
How does my writing process work?
I rarely, if ever, sit down to churn out a full piece start to finish. Rather, I write in the crevices of my day, around the edges of a life filled with little ones and little time. I tap thoughts and triggers into an app on my phone as they come to me (how remarkably unpoetic) and once a theme or coherent idea emerges, I try to string it all together in my early morning hours.
I carve out 4-6am every morning (3am if I’m really inspired) to write before sunrise with my coffee companion (always in the same yellow mug, and piping hot). I love everything about the early morning and starting my day with nothing but my quiet, coffee, words. I’ve tried to write at night; it’s a bad idea.
Often one of my boys will have wandered into my bed in the middle of the night. He will breathe deeply beside me as I tap the keys, sometimes stirring. I often wonder if deep in the recesses of their minds, my sons will remember me, their mother, sitting and writing in the dark as day edges out night.
When I write, I tend to sit hunched over, shoulders tense, on the floor, in a bed, or in the least ergonomic chair I can find. And I bite the skin on the insides of my fingers—a horrible habit I’m trying to break. I also forget to eat.
When I have an idea burning a hole in my pocket, I’m restless until I get a first draft down (thanks again, impatience). Then I let it sit—a sorry unstructured mess of half-thoughts and unfinished sentences. But the polishing and playing with words, the whispering them aloud into the darkness, the writing and rewriting…well, that’s the best part.
Even when I think a piece is done, I let it sit for one more day. I leave it alone, while somehow simultaneously taking it with me, walking around with it, letting the words breathe, and giving my mind the space and clarity it needs to return.
Then, after I submit or publish a piece, I perform my ritualistic, unproductive post-mortem where I obsess over what I could have written better.
And the tour continues…I’d like to ask Kim Simon and Alisa Brownlow to share their writing processes next.
Kim was one of the first writers I followed, fell in love with, admired from afar. I love how she masters both humor and heart with sincerity. She’s got snark and sweet to spare. When I click over to one of her pieces, I know I’ll either be laughing hysterically or on the verge of tears. She has an achingly beautiful, relatable way of writing about motherhood (read this or this). She’s also doing admirable work through the I Support You movement to build support and understanding among all parents—formula-feeders, breastfeeders, everyone—no matter how they feed their children.
Alisa is a writer I’ve come to “know” more recently, but I’m so glad I found my way to her words. They always resonate, delivering those “me too moments” I crave—like here and here. She authored one of my favorite “About” pages on a blog ever—although it’s on her old site and I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it here. Also, gotta love another ex-lawyer turned writer mama.
So here’s to this writing life…and this blog tour, because while writing may be a solitary pursuit, I couldn’t do it without knowing others are out there toiling away too.