Hello, friends. I’ve been invited to do another blog Q&A, the #mywritingprocess blog tour. The last one was fun, and I really like the idea behind this one, which is to delve into each writer’s process.
I was tagged by Shauna Hambrick Jones, a writer whom I met at the Creative Nonfiction writing conference I attended last May in Pittsburgh. Shauna and I were assigned to the same workshop, after which we went for drinks and talked about grad school, business cards and other items of interest. Check out Shauna’s contribution to the blog tour at mentalshenanigans.com, in which she discusses kaleidoscopes, red wine, her memoir-in-progress, learning to blog and—on a serious note—how Freedom Industries’ recent spill of toxic chemicals into the West Virginia water supply have impacted her family and her work.
Thanks, Shauna! And away we go…
What are you working on?
I am in the final stretch of writing an essay collection called The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures. It’s a collection of linked essays about survival, fear, redemption, love, religion, art, boyfriends, girlfriends and dogs. It’s about the way we make myths and meaning from our lives and forge our identities through story.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
This is a tough question. On the one hand, it’s a good one because it calls you out if you haven’t been reading voraciously, which is, of course, key to honing one’s writing chops. (I’ve been reading essay and memoir as well as nonfiction books about things I’m interested in that I touch on in The Saltwater Twin, like magical thinking, the philosophy of evil and how animals think.)
On the other hand, it’s a bit of an odd thing to ask. I mean, there’s quite a bit of variation within the creative nonfiction genre in which I would classify The Saltwater Twin. It’s personal, narrative essay and perhaps a roundabout sort of memoir. I don’t think I’m reinventing the wheel. Here’s what I care about in my writing: I want to write strong, clear, imagistic prose. I want to tell stories and I also want to explore ideas.
Why do you write what you do?
At different times I’ve written plays, screenplays, monologues, poems and essays. (Oh, and a couple of raps from my brief stint in a feminist rap group in the 90s; #yesyoureadthatright #theroofisonfire) I love writing for the stage and have a really good idea for a play, which I hope to write someday. Before The Saltwater Twin, I was actually working on a screenplay. Then on a whim, and encouraged by my Biggest Fan, Lindsay, I entered an essay contest that resulted in getting published in Glamour magazine, a photo shoot, a couple fancy lunches and some interest in my work from literary agents. I liked the experience of writing the essay (my first foray into the genre), and I thought it would be interesting to keep going. After this, I kind of want to write a novel. I adore novels. We’ll see.
P.S. I just realized this question could be construed to be about content rather than genre. Content-wise, I’d say I’m curious. I want to know things about the world and people. I write to figure them out. I write to articulate things I struggle to put into words. I write to tell the truth. Also, I like when I’m funny, which is not all the time. But sometimes I am.
How does your writing process work?
I am slow. I think I come by it honestly: I’m a bit of a dawdler, a saunterer, a meanderer by nature. When it comes to my writing, I’d love to be more jackrabbity, but writing The Saltwater Twin has been a long haul. So that’s the first thing: my process is a slow one. The essays in the collection have progressed thusly: I get a bee in my bonnet—something I want to write about—a story from my life, usually connected with an idea—friendship, for example, or body image or cruelty or shame. I freewrite lots of pages—every story, anecdote that comes to mind. I research my area of interest and freewrite some more. I free associate. I start badgering my friends and associates with questions about my topic. I write and write and write. Then I cull from my notes and assemble an essay with some kind of narrative and thematic arc. I work on my tour guide (an invaluable concept I adopted from a brilliant Chicago writer, Barrie Cole)—the narrative voice that will help the reader move through and reflect upon the story I’m telling. Then I print a clean copy, read it (often out loud), mark it up and type in my revisions. Then I print it again and read it again and mark it up again. Rinse and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. There are typically snacks and coffee and breaks. And putting the work away and taking it out again and feeling like it’s a big mess and who do I think I am anyway and then thinking no, it’s brilliant and then feeling satisfied with where it has arrived. Yes, a feeling of arrival. That’s it.
Next up on the #mywritingprocess blog tour:
Middle-age Butch writes about living in that middle place where boy and girl collide. She hopes to finish her memoir in 2014. You can read about her adventures in gender nonconformity at The Flannel Files at middleagebutch.wordpress.com. She lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her partner, their children and their cats.
I stumbled across Middle-age Butch’s blog, and immediately wanted to be her internet best friend. She’s very funny. Also smart and charming. And also funny.
Nikki Patin has been writing for over two decades. She has taught hundreds of workshops on performance poetry, body image, sexual assault prevention and LGBT issues. Patin has worked as a sexual assault prevention educator for Rape Victim Advocates and as a case manager/program coordinator for Center on Halsted’s youth program. Patin has performed, taught and spoken at elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities such as Francis Parker, University of Chicago, Adler School of Psychology, Northwestern University, Nancy B. Jefferson High School (located within the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center), University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison and –Stevens Point and many others. Patin is an MFA candidate in Creative Non-Fiction at Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. Read more at nikkipatin.com.
Once upon a time Nikki and I worked for a Chicago arts organization in adjacent cubicles. There were lots of vibrant discussions about race and gender and teaching. There was also sparkly nail polish. The lady likes her sparkles.
Lindsay Porter is a person who sometimes writes. She has written a couple of long plays, a few short plays and several solo performance pieces which have been performed by Running with Scissors, Chicago Dramatists, Tellin’ Tales, Trap Door and Collaboraction Theatre in Chicago and by Live Girls in Seattle and Riverside Theatre in Iowa. She has several blogs but keeps forgetting how to find them on the internet so she updates them infrequently. She enjoys updating her status on Facebook and writing long, thoughtful responses to belligerent posts in the comment sections of online newspapers. In fact, she is sure if she had marshaled all the energy she spent replying to angry tea party members by compiling her thoughts in manuscript form, she would now be a published author. She thinks it would be really cool if somebody would use Facebook to create fictional characters whose lives play out in novel form via their posts. If you think that’s a cool idea too, maybe you should do it. Lindsay teaches creative writing at Lake County Jail in Waukegan, Illinois. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son. Visit her at chimeragirl2010.wordpress.com.
Lindsay is the Lindsay who designated herself my Biggest Fan and listened to drafts of my Glamour essay en route to our writing class at Lake County Jail. But that’s not why I invited her to be part of this blog tour. That was because she’s whip smart and talented and wry and possibly a geography savant.
Check them out, friends!