No one has ever asked me why I write. They’ve asked how I get published, and how much I get paid, but never why I am a writer.
Now my friend Jacqui Morton has asked me, and I’m happy to share my answers – as part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. More on that later.
This is Jacqui. She is one of the few people I trust to read my work before I send it out for publication. She and I met in graduate school, but our relationship has been largely electronic: I send her my work, she sends me hers, and we check in with each other by email a few times a week. She’s a great mom, and her writing is emotional, tender, sincere and true. As a nonfiction writer, I can’t think of any compliment greater than that.
You can read her responses to the Writing Process Blog Tour here.
And here are my answers:
1. What are you working on?
Well, I recently wrote one essay about getting remarried and another essay about Betty Crocker and the grandmother I never knew, but my primary focus these days is a memoir about the years following a very painful divorce. I’m on my second draft, going through revision, which is seriously a lot of fucking work.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I write nonfiction and memoir, and while I don’t think my writing is particularly different from most nonfiction and memoir, my work explores the way we remember things – or forget things, if that’s the case. I write a lot about being a parent, particularly my experience as a single parent. My daughter, who is almost eight years old, is an intuitive, creative child who challenges me to see things differently. It isn’t unusual for my essays to find parallels between my daughter’s experiences and my own.
3. Why do you write what you write?
I write in order to understand. Whenever a topic or problem is burning a hole into my brain, only two things help me find perspective: yoga and writing. Yoga costs money but writing is free (and sometimes it pays!)
Somehow, rendering my thoughts to the page helps me understand whatever I am grappling with. Maybe it’s deciding whether to get remarried. Maybe it’s figuring out my compulsion to throw things away. Maybe it’s handling disappointment when my daughter doesn’t want to hold my hand anymore. Writing is the best way I know to make sense of life.
4.How does your writing process work?
When I write, I write obsessively.
I will write madly for a few days or a few weeks, and then not at all. When I have an essay in progress, I’ll jump out of bed in the middle of the night to write down the perfect sentence. I write wherever I can, on whatever I find. I write on bank statements, envelopes, Starbucks receipts. I once took notes on a fish stick coupon.
I also write all my first drafts with a pencil and paper. No computers. Writing on paper helps me feel closer to the material. Maybe that’s old-fashioned, but it feels more intimate that way. Once, when I needed to write a section of memoir where the narrator was scared, I sat on my bed in complete darkness, writing by pencil onto a piece of paper I could not even see. It worked: that particular section of story is pretty creepy.
From there, I type my work into the computer, and then obsess over every little word and every little sentence for weeks, or months – sometimes years. There is one essay on my desktop that is three years in the making. I’m not sure if I’m done with it yet. Maybe. There’s a good follow-up question: How does a writer know when she is really, truly done?
Here’s how the Writing Process Blog Tour works. Now that I’ve answered these questions, I’m supposed to tag two writer friends. I’ve chosen two fiction writers whose work is unfamiliar because I want to know how their process is different from my own.
One is Lorinda Toledo. You can find her blog here.
The other is my friend, Rachael Warecki. You can find her Facebook page here.