I was recently tagged in the Writer's Process Blog Tour Project by fellow neighborhood writer and children's media colleague, Melissa Sarno. I love this project. What a great way to discover, connect and stay connected with writers from far afield. Melissa pens the blog This Too..., a place she comes to muse on life, writing, and books. Her fiction is fantastic and wistful, carefully written, and just right. It's the kind of writing you want to stop mid-page and read aloud to someone. You can read her take on the writing process here and I hope you'll take the time to read mine. At the end of my post, I'll be tagging two writers whose writing processes I'm dying to hear about -- two writers whose blogs I follow, value, and love with all of my heart. xx
What am I working on?
From time to time, but every time, a guitarist named Jesse Cohen stands on the platform of the Carroll Street subway station and sings his freaking heart out. He does this bearing no ill will against the racket of Coney Island and Manhattan-bound trains, or the bushed faces of morning’s harmonious onslaught of coffee sips, bag digs, and phone checks, and yet, every two minutes, another train, and I can’t help but perceive each one's arriving interruption as unfair competition -- a vociferous entrant that blows in off the street, opens doors, sweeps his only audience off their feet. I can’t tell you how tired I’ve grown of choosing to be at work on time over hearing Jesse finish up a song, and that’s pretty much why I went to go hear him perform at an oyster bar on Court Street a few weeks ago.
When I got to the bar I took a stool and ordered a beer, but I noticed him off to the side, alone and eating a burger. Now, because he plays in the subway, I assume he is struggling, and because he is struggling, I assume he needs encouragement, and because he needs encouragement, I assume he has none to give. I can make fast and nasty assumptions like these on a daily basis, just you watch. So when he approached the bar for another drink, standing just to the right of me, I couldn’t keep my married self from saying, “I came here for you tonight.”
Jesse’s burger stayed on the plate because I asked him things that required explaining, and he shared with me just one of his life stories, since we don’t have just one, and I listened to him answer all of my questions with a soft frankness that is becoming harder and harder to find in people. That, or I hadn’t struck up conversation with a stranger in a very long time, but even so, he gave me that middle of the night tête-à-tête with the guy not at the party, but the one who knows about the party you went to, and you share cigarettes together on the broken porch with a vanishing light, talking about god knows what until you can finally go pay for pancakes.
When he was done, he bit into a cold burger and said, “Enough about me, what about you?” and I confessed to him I was having trouble balancing my work life with my writing life. I liked writing more, and was that a problem? Should I like them both the same? Shouldn’t I be doing what makes me most happy? Then again, am I taking the stability and flexibility of my work life for granted? If I could share with you my health insurance card, Jesse Cohen, I would.
He told me I had to do both, to find ways to keep doing both, that I’m lucky to have both these options available to me. He encouraged me not to be a lazy—to go to work, to come home and write, and to rinse and repeat, compete with the train if you have to compete. This is what I’m working on.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It differs little when I’m reading and taking in other writers that I love, especially when I am easily moved and stirred by so many, at times to a debilitating degree. I remember studying Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” for the first time in college, literally running home to toil on my imitation. I loved “Girl” and the style of “Girl” so much – a mother’s nagging list to her daughter of how to do this and how not to do that, and at 20-years-old, clearly it spoke. I was a young writer being told collectively with all my writing classes to “find your voice” and, of course, studying another writer’s language and literary stylings will assist greatly with that hunt, especially a writer like Kincaid, but honestly I still struggle with putting my voice into words. My mom once called me “deep” after a poetry reading but I think that’s just something you have fun saying to someone once they’re finished reading their poem. I have a voice but it lives and breathes somewhat separate from myself, and sometimes I barely recognize it because it is just an impressionable collection of things seen, food smelled, feelings felt, songs heard, conversations overheard, and writings read, sometimes once, sometimes over and over and over again.
Why do I write what I do?
I hate math but I adore the puzzle of putting together a good piece of writing. It’s the sort of brainwork I find I enjoy. It’s also relaxing. I love taking the time to put anything into words – the words I don’t normally have in the moment, but I know are there – the words that other people will hopefully connect with and think YES. I make my way through life feeling extremely ineloquent and that reflection alone pushes me to recap things both properly and thoughtfully, in an effort to make sense of it all, for others, but especially for myself. When it comes down to it, I write what I do to work on my candor and I come to my blog to practice my writing. Above all, I am just shy of obsessed with my children and my children’s children and my children’s children’s children sitting by a fire on a frosty night sifting through shoeboxes upon shoeboxes, all stuffed with my writings, and feeling like they know themselves better because of a written taste of who I am, who I was.
How does your writing process work?
With a lot of staring, a lot of deleting, and a lot of patience. I take forever to write a single sentence. (Yes, that took forever.) A weekend writer with the occasional weeknight thrown in, I can't write anything without a decent beverage, and I won’t post anything until I’ve read it out loud. If I wouldn’t speak it, I don’t want to write it.
And now, for who I'm tagging...
Lara Dotlich Anderson for her blog Joy, Lovely, Joy.
Carly Sloan Einstein for her blog On Being Unrelated.