Monday, March 17, 2014

My Writing Process (Blog Tour Entry)

This blog has been silent for quite a while, but when Claire Guyton asks me to do something, how can I refuse? So, here is my contribution to the ever-widening #MyWritingProcess blog tour.

1)  What am I working on?

Right now, mostly flash fiction and nonfiction, because I only have short bouts of time and energy to write, and because this seems to be how my mind is working lately: in lyric bursts.

2)  How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

I’m going to punt this question by quoting George Saunders: “Originality in art means settling into who you actually are.” To the extent that a writer looks closely and honestly at the world around her through the lenses her knowledge, experience, and imagination have crafted for her, and presents that world in her own life-won vernacular (that blend of words and cadences from her grandmother’s kitchen, the office where she works every day, the books that she dreamed over as a child, and so on), then her work will differentiate itself from that of other writers.

3)  Why do I write what I do?

I write when some character, situation, image, or idea niggles at me. Sometimes, in the writing, I figure out why it was niggling at me, although usually I discover some other thing which is as good or better.

I write because life is a mess and a muddle, a beautiful, terrible thing we will never be able to parse out or capture entire, so the best we can do is keep banging away at it, hammering out our bits of understanding.

I write because, as Bernard Malamud said, writing is not a bad way to live out this human confusion. [I can’t find the exact quote to link to it, but I believe it is somewhere in Alan Cheuse and Nicholas Delbanco’s Talking Horse.]

4)   How does your writing process work?

Because my writing time is catch as catch can, I have to make the most of mental percolation and unconscious readiness: I try to keep the back burners bubbling with ideas, images, and language, to remain open and attentive whenever I can. This is harder than you might think, but necessary – even for writers with longer swaths of time to call their own, I suspect. Writing, like any art, demands a certain way of being in the world alongside the knowledge and the discipline necessary to create. In order for something to come out in your writing, it has to be somewhere in you, something that you were receptive or perceptive enough to register even in inchoate form. I read an essay a couple of years ago by Kamila Shamsie in which she challenges American writers to be as globally involved in our work as our government is in its interventions, and I realized that, if I were to take up her challenge, I would have to be a different person: not just more knowledgeable about world affairs, but someone who inhabited the world differently, both in my thoughts and in my actions. Shamsie was unconsciously ready to be struck by that image of a woman with her kimono’s patterns burnt into her back, but I’m guessing some conscious effort went into making her ready: the research necessary to write the story that came out of that image was necessary work, but so was the less direct preparation that came before that image even struck her, that made her the sort of person who would be struck by that image and then be able to imagine further beyond that image into a character and situation that would be rich and alive with complexity. How can I be so open to the world beyond me, ready to accurately and responsibly respond to it? The kind of writer I want to be and the kind of person I want to be go hand in hand here, and reaching toward them both is a crucial part of the process and practice of writing.

For other aspects of the writing process, visit other points on the #MyWritingProcess blog tour, where you can poach from the thoughts of smart, talented folks like Diane Lefer, Suzanne Farrell Smith, James Pounds, and, last but not least, the wonderful Claire Guyton, who was the person who invited me to participate in this venture. I am now passing the torch to the witty Eileen Favorite, the incandescent Goldie Goldbloom, and the wise Marci Rich (see bios below).

Eileen Favorite's first novel The Heroines (Scribner, 2008) was named a Best Debut Novel by The Rocky Mountain News, and has been translated into Finnish, Italian, Russian, Korean, and will soon appear in Czech. The audio version was nominated for best recording by the American Library Association. A writer of both poetry and prose, she's twice received Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowships (prose, 2001; poetry 2005). Her work has appeared in many publications, including Triquarterly, Folio, Chicago Reader, Poetry East, and Diagram. She's been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in fiction and nonfiction. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in Writing and at the Graham School of Continuing Studies at the University of Chicago. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters. She is represented by Jennifer Rudolph Walsh of William Morris Endeavor.

Goldie Goldbloom’s novel, The Paperbark Shoe (Picador, 2011), won the AWP Novel Award and the Novel of the Year from ForeWord Magazine. Her short fiction was published in a collection, You Lose These  (Fremantle Press, 2011) and has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, StoryQuarterly and Narrative Magazine, as well as in many anthologies. She was the winner of Hunger Mountain’s 2014 Non-Fiction Award and the Jerusalem Post’s International Fiction Prize. Goldbloom’s essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Le Monde, on NPR and G-dcast, and in the groundbreaking anthology, Keep Your Wives Away from Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires (North Atlantic, 2010). In 2014, she received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and earlier, was the Simon Blattner Fellow at Northwestern University, where she still teaches creative writing at the graduate level. Goldbloom is an internationally recognized speaker and was recently honored by being invited to speak at the International Forum on the Novel in Lyon, France. She lives in Chicago, Illinois, with her eight children. She is originally from Western Australia.

Marci Rich, creator of the blog “The Midlife Second Wife” and a contributing blogger at the Huffington Post, is at work on a memoir. Among the print and online publications in which her blog posts, essays, poems, and articles have appeared are the Richmond Times-Dispatch; the Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio); the ​alumni magazines for Oberlin College and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (she edited the latter for 10 years); Silver Kris (Singapore);, the website for the Katie Couric show; BlogHer; and the literary journals FIELDTimbuktu, Synaesthetic and the Abiko Quarterly (Japan), among others. In 2012, the Huffington Post honored The Midlife Second Wife as one of the top seven blogs for readers over the age of 50. Rich is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Oberlin College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a concentration in creative writing, and where she won the Academy of American Poets student award. She is president of KeyWord Communications, LLC, which offers writing, media relations, and consulting services, and lives with her husband in Rocky River, Ohio.


  1. "the best we can do is keep banging away at it, hammering out our bits of understanding" -- makes me want to sing, Yes, you have a hammer....

  2. Love your beautiful articulation of the intersection of art and life. Yes yes yes. Better writer: better person. Nice to have you back here (if only for a moment!).