When I first started writing with the intent of others reading my words, I didn’t get why writers were stereotyped as such tortured souls. Back then, over a decade ago, the sentences flew from my heart through my fingertips to the key board and onto the screen. Submissions were largely met with success – and every publication was a celebration. I was a happy writer, with the highest hopes and the lowest levels of frustration. The craft came easily; but, then again, I had a great deal of material pent up, a pipeline rich with experiences I couldn’t wait to share. I didn’t know the creativity wouldn’t always flow.
Now, years later, I’m still a happy writer, but I understand the angst. I’ve sat staring at my computer screen with nothing to give. I read my own words back to myself and called them out for the crap that they were. I’ve abandoned lofty projects far sooner than I ever would have imagined. I know that writing takes an internal energy and external inspiration that most days do not fall from the sky and land simultaneously into your lap. You need to seek out both and, in doing so, sometimes you bleed.
And bleeding loves company.
I first saw this blog series that asked writers to blog about their writing processes on the pages of Lindsey Mead Russell’s A Design So Vast and was struck by the different motivations we each had for writing. Lindsey seeks to capture her life – and in doing so gives us the beautiful gift of her words. I am driven by offering my thoughts to the world – and, in the end, I have captured my life. We are essentially mirrors of one another in this regard.
I lost track of the series as it shot off into the blogosphere, but was thrilled when it came back around through my dear friend Jessie Braun who co-blogged with me at Mothers of Brothers before launching her own site No Cigarettes, No Bologna, which I read religiously every week. There are very few writers who I read, and then say to myself, “Damn, I wish I wrote that!” But Jessie is one of them. I know how hard she toils at her craft but man, she makes it look easy. Jessie has a way of pulling you into her world and into her head where she lets you hang out for a while. Once she pushes all of your buttons, pulls at all of your heartstrings, and tickles your funny bone, out you go back to your own world, but hers tends to stay with you. Thank you Jessie for tagging me and letting me play along.
Here are the questions… and my answers.
What am I working on?
For the last five years (or more) I’ve been working on finding the time and energy to embark upon a larger project beyond my weekly blog here at Mothers of Brothers. I write each week as a means of keeping my writing muscle strong, but I have yet to truly commit myself to something more. Its not unlike training for a marathon, but never signing up to run one. I’m terribly frustrated in this regard, but only with myself.
My inertia on this front is not for lack of ideas. I really want to write the Mothers of Brother book – before someone else does. And that project is a matter of taking the time to curate my favorite posts from the blog and string them together into a narrative that flows really nicely and hits various targets along the way. Simple enough, right? Well, the next part is finding an agent and selling said book, a path which I went down a few years back which left me rather wary of the publishing process. But I do think it is worthy of trying again. Those who know my writing understand that that this book wouldn’t be about how to handle the rough and tumble, booger and fart-laced life that comes with the stereotypical life with sons. I feel there is are cerebral and emotional elements to raising boys that are often overlooked – yet still play a huge part in the process. My book would be the “thinking Mom’s” book about their sons – and I hope it would take readers places worth going.
I have also written a children’s book which requires a kick-ass illustrator who I have yet to seek (or find), beyond a few light inquiries. I love the concept of this book which focuses on the poignant, often unanswerable questions children ask their parents from when they are young to adulthood. My vision involves beautiful fantastical, pages that tell this story beyond the words I have written. If any of you MoB readers know of such an artist, please let me know. This project would be a true partnership.
I also have a memoir in my head about my teenage years which were spent embedded at a townhouse complex populated with fractured families and broken people. And there is a fiction book with the working title “Spin” about the world of financial PR that is not so loosely based on characters, egos and heroes I have met during my career. Both of these projects frighten me for different reasons.
So at the time of this post, I have yet to dive into any of these efforts with great fervor. Lack of energy? Lack of courage? Lack of rigor? In a few weeks I’m scheduled to spend some time with my beloved Tribe in Manzanita, Oregon where I hope to explore some of the obstacles keeping me from these endeavors. Because one of my greatest fears in life is coming to the end and regretting those things I didn’t do.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t really classify my genre as “mommy blogging.” My aversion to the term is more substantive than high mindedness. No one calls me “Mommy” anymore (unless I’m being treated to the classic Family Guy rendition of Stewie’s “Mom Mama Mommy.”) And I don’t limit my themes to just parenting. From my very first piece that was ever published about losing one’s identity when becoming a parent, I have focused on my journey as a human being first, and a parent second. I have conversations with myself all the time about situations, experiences, spells that I have gone through, and to the extent that I can transpose those selfie discussions onto the page, I feel successful – and perhaps unique.
I also like to mix it up. Like my life, my words are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often full of angst, and occasionally laced with the gratitude I vow to express more often. I try to strike a balance on my blog and rotate the serious with the silly from week to week. I do pay particular attention to my voice and am very cognizant of how my words might make people feel. If there is any question that something I write might embarrass or hurt someone, I don’t go there. On particularly touchy subjects that involve other people, I will show them a preview and seek permission. No one has ever asked me not to write something I showed them.
I do try to speak with my own voice throughout my work, which of course brings up a slew of insecurities. I worry most about being too preachy, too narrow minded, or too privileged in my opinions. On the handful of occasions when my writing has been controversial, I have a different conversation with myself, and reinforce the need for starting a public dialogue about whatever topic is causing the commotion. Criticism and different opinions are welcome; threats and anonymous anger freak me out. Also, this is probably not unique to me but the rhythm of the words on the page are important to me. I read back to myself everything I write, and edit according the cadence as much as the content. My favorite sentences are the ones that sing to me.
Why do I write what I do?
I have always said that I write to resonate. But it goes a little deeper than that. I really write to make people feel good – because that makes me feel good. When someone relates to my experiences and perspective, there is a little slice of unity created. And the more we can tether ourselves together through universal experiences, hopes, disappointments, fears and victories, the better off we are. My motivation may sound selfless – but it’s not. Call it middle child syndrome, but I am most certainly a pleaser – and a giver. And the joy and satisfaction I get when I hit the bulls eye of someone else’s heart is addictive. It is but one way I can matter in this world, and the thought of squandering such an opportunity keeps me writing.
How does my writing process work?
Oh my. It is always the damn process that makes this writing thing no fun at all. Like Jessie, I try to “think” about my words before I put my fingers on the keys. (And no, I NEVER write longhand, which makes me feel a little inferior to those that do, but the screen is what works best for me.) Also like Jessie, the car and the shower are my two favorite places where I am often the most relaxed and ideas just start to flow. I have also had some very good brainstorms while playing soccer with my dog. And sometimes, when I’m super tired, I lie to myself and say that I am going to think about my next post in bed, only to fall fast asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow.
A few years back when I was hoping to write more than think less, I focused on doing “morning pages.” So many writers swore by them, and I believed that as long as you could stick with it, those pages would become a God send. Well, it took a few days but I soon found myself hating the morning pages. I cursed them; resenting them for the early hour and the obligation of writing, even when I had nothing to say. No one was ever going to read them anyway, so why bother? So sorry, Julia Cameron. Not for me. It’s heresy. I know.
So these days, I write on Sunday evenings, usually after dinner in my office where I work professionally. The amount of time I spend at my desk is a little frightening and something I think I have to work to change. I often have an idea in mind when I sit down, but no clear path until I make it past the first paragraph, which is always the hardest for me. But from there, I can quickly meander through a narrative – often jotting down notes further down the page if something strikes me but is not ready to be said just yet. I do all my work in Word, then transfer to WordPress, and add an image or two. I do try to proofread to varying degrees of success. Whenever I finish a piece in the evening, I go to be feeling accomplished and happy. I hit “publish” first thing Monday morning – usually before 8:00 a.m. And then at some point in the middle of the day I’ll take 2 minutes and throw a link up on Facebook and Twitter for my followers.
I read all the comments wherever they are made – on the blog itself or on Facebook. I rarely write back – simply because I don’t have much time each week to do so. I admire those folks who do have time for those important conversations – but I hope my readers know that I love hearing from them and read every word they write to me.
The best pieces – the ones I know are worthy of a larger audience – I offer to Huffington Post or sometimes the Philadelphia Inquirer where I have the chance to work with some great editors. But I am very choosy about what I put out to the larger audiences – the difference between signing to your family and belting something out at Carnegie Hall. It really needs to be ready for prime time.
I hope, someday, more of my work will feel this worthy. Thanks to all of you who tell me that it is — and for bearing with me when it’s not. You really are the reason I write. xxoo
There are many writers and bloggers from whom I would love to hear answers to these questions. My friend and Tribe sister Meghan is one. Meghan is not only a beautiful, honest writer, but she is also a fantastic photographer who is poised to meld these two talents together into some amazing work. As I have embarked upon my creative journey, it is Meghan who has taught me about the importance of community and camaraderie along the way. I encourage you to read her words next week, but also dive into her website for a glimpse at her striking photography and reflections on her unique path.Originally from the East Coast, Meghan currently lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her partner and Labrador retriever. She’s a psychologist working as a faculty member at a large university where she teaches and conducts research. Meghan also maintains a small private practice working with clients to help them with their goals and dreams. A personal health crisis awakened Meghan to the truth of the old adage that “life is short.” Since then, she has jumped more fully into life, and photography is where she finds flow, beauty, and passion. Having fallen in love with film, Meghan most often shoots with her many Polaroid cameras. You can see Meghan’s writing and photography on her website: http://www.meghandavidson.com.