Much gratitude to the talented Laura Jean Schneider, a fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts student, for tagging me for the Writing Process Blog Tour. I’ve been hoping to kick the blog back into gear, and this is a great way to start. Onwards!
- What are you working on?
- How does your work differ from others of its genre?
- Why do you write what you do?
- How does your writing process work?
I just graduated with my MFA in July. I’ve organized the best of my creative thesis into a chapbook that I am currently submitting to publishers, and now I’m focused on generating new work again. My hope is to have enough to put together a full collection in another year or so.
No comment. No idea, actually, and I really try to resist the temptation to think about my work in this way at all—in part because comparing myself to others makes me crazy and shuts me down hard, but also because I worry that categorizing myself risks becoming a self-fulfilling (and unproductively limiting) prophesy. This question is therefore left as an exercise for the reader.
To think and feel more clearly.
To stop time, even for just a second.
To allow my real self to be seen.
My writing process seems to involve a lot of complaining about all the things that are getting in the way of my writing, most of them my husband’s fault. That is what fear looks like around here.
When I am able to get out of my own way, I usually write for an hour right after I get up on weekdays. I get a big cup of coffee, my college-ruled notebook with my alma mater’s logo embossed in gold on the cover, and a Bic Round Stic pen with medium point and blue ink. I sit at my dining room table and light an organic palm wax tea light in a gold-mosaic candleholder that I got at Pier 1 for 5 bucks. It’s ridiculously important to me that the details don’t change. Though I can live without the candle when I’m on the road, I buy the tea lights, notebooks, and pens in bulk. I don’t invest them with any particular power, but I rely on them as signals to my subconscious that it’s time to get to work.
Once the candle’s going, I stare at the flame, drink my coffee, and try to stop thinking that I will never write a good poem again ever. I look back at what I wrote the day before, or at a list of ideas for poems that I keep on my phone. I stare out the window. I watch the dog circling his food dish and looking forlorn. I chew on my pen. I try to get quiet inside. Eventually I start writing things down in the notebook.
I am not one of those folks who can free-write without picking the pen up off the page—I am constitutionally incapable of not editing as I go, and I would drive Natalie Goldberg to drink. But since I can’t shut that inner critic up entirely, I try to use her productively. I do cross out a lot, and I have been known to write “ugh” in the margins of the notebook. But I also try to listen carefully for where the emotional charge is in what I’m writing; and when I sense it, I turn the volume on the critic down as low as it will go and let my mind follow the electricity. I trust that the critic will be there when I need her.
I generally don’t let myself get out of the chair until the full hour has elapsed, even if I’m doing nothing. Rob Carlson, in his wonderful Ron Carlson Writes a Story, says: “All the valuable writing I’ve done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I’ve wanted to leave the room.” This is good advice. It turns out anything is better than sitting doing nothing. Even writing a little more poetry.
In the evenings I read poetry and craft books and general inspiration books in bed before going to sleep. These days I’m reading a lot of chapbooks, to get a sense of what’s out there. For full-length collections I’ve loved Zachary Schomburg’s The Book of Joshua. And I’m reading Mindy Nettifee’s Glitter in the Blood for encouragement; I’m limiting myself to a chapter a day (OK, sometimes two on weekends) to make it last longer.
On weekends I edit, using the computer. I usually try to get at least a full first draft done by hand, as I find I get different—freer—things out of handwriting than I do from the keyboard. But once it’s in the computer I pay more attention to how it looks on the page and, for reasons I don’t totally understand, specific word choices.
The last step is to share with with a trusted reader or two and try it out at an open mic. Sometimes it’s a few tweaks and I’m done, other times it’s back to writing in the notebook. Either way, I’m closer to finished poem.
I’m thrilled to tag three wonderful writer friends to go next:
Jim Kroschell divides his life into three parts: growing up for 29 years, working in science publishing for 29 years, and now writing in Massachusetts and Maine. His essays are widely published (see his website).
Jeanne Obbard writes excessively about the weather and sparingly about the writing process, except that the weather poems are pretty short, and the essays are kind of long-winded, if that makes sense. She works in clinical research and lives in the Philadelphia area. Her poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Anderbo, Atlanta Review, EDGE, Philadelphia Poets, Philadelphia Stories, Rathalla Review, and the anthology Prompted.
K. C. Norton is a student of Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her fiction has appeared in publications such as Lightspeed‘s Women Destroy Science Fiction! and the September 2014 issues of Galaxy’s Edge and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. She is currently on a quest across America in search of the spirit of Bigfoot, the subject of her current novel-in-progress.