First I have to express my gratitude to Tania Pryputniewicz for inviting me to participate in this blogging tour entitled ‘My Writing Process’. I feel very honoured to be part of this illustrious event, and more than a little bemused to find myself claiming the moniker of ‘writer’ as I sit alongside such wonderful and inspirational authors such as Tania herself. To follow the tour backwards as it were, click on the link for Tania’s blog, and follow her nominations as well as the writer, Marilyn Bousquin, who tagged Tania herself. I can promise you a wonderful and stimulating afternoon exploring the writerly stratosphere of online blogging.
Tania Pryputniewicz is a poet, a teacher, managing poetry editor and art editor of The Fertile Source, and co-founder of Mother, Writer, Mentor. She teaches online workshops with the Story Circle Network, covering topics from Transformative Blogging, to writing with the Tarot. She also teaches the Poetry of Motherhood and the Poetry of Fatherhood. She blogs at Feral Mom, Feral Writer, as well as here. Her poetry and prose has been published in various literary journals.
I first became acquainted with Tania when I stumbled across her blog devoted to the concept of Transformational Blogging. Intrigued I followed her postings for a while before finally plucking up the courage to invite her to participate in an interview on my blog. To find out more about Tania’s innovative and inspirational concepts on the transformative effects of blogging, check out her interview here and here.
The desire to be a writer has been running through my veins for my entire life, though it wasn’t until I was older that I recognized it for what it was. So all those years spent reading and dreaming, scribbling stories on scraps of paper, even studying philosophy in university, I was writing, though not realizing at the time, but oh how I wish I had, that it was the actual writing of the essays which thrilled me most, the letting go, the sheer exuberance and joy of letting the ideas spill out upon the page, words and concepts rolling and tumbling, following their own natural course, like a river gathering momentum as it flows down the mountain. I was that river. But I didn’t know it. I forgot to take the time to look upon my reflection in the swirling pools of the rushing waters. But maybe that was just it – the gushing foam and the roaring ripples would hardly have allowed me glimpse the shadows of the self I could not see. Maybe it has taken me all this time to get to know who I am and what I yearn to do. Reflecting on my process of writing enables me to discern patterns of assonance and dissonance, to see what a picture of myself as writer might look like.
1) What am I working on?
Some time ago I walked into my local bookshop and asked my favourite bookseller to recommend a novel which would grab me and refuse to weaken its grip; a book that would infiltrate my dreams and float across the vision of my days, leaving me with the disquieting sense that either I had entered the world of the novel, or it had become part of me; either way, reading it, I would inhabit a kind of half-world, a numinous becoming, a barely sensed intimation that I was living someone else’s life (mine? a shadow self, or alter ego?). I told her that I needed this novel to change me beyond recognition; it had to transform me so that when I closed the final page I would not be the same person who first pulled open its binding. And it had to do all this, work its magic, using language which reverberated with the rhythms of music, whose words were poetry dressed up as prose.
What I didn’t tell her was that it also needed to be a tome which left my fingers and heart itching to pick up a pen and write. This book had to be the very novel which would cause an internal battle within me every time I opened it – read or write? My friend, the bookseller, laughed and told me to go and do that one thing that perhaps every author is ordered to do – write the book you want to read. Tall order indeed! Would that I could, but even if I can’t, I can still try. Albeit slowly, piecemeal, in between a myriad of other things to be done, each one more urgent than the last, the lot of all mothers everywhere. We must live our lives out, give voice to our creative dreams, in the spaces and gaps between what must be done to ensure the orderly running of a full and active household, and what needs to be done to save a mother from growing insane.
My guides are books given place of distinction upon my over-crowded bookshelves, cheap imitations of the floor-to-ceiling shelving system I shall, one day, erect. They include notable titles such as May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, and Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and a host of other marvellously inspirational memoirs penned by writing women – each one special, each one a mentor and guide to the possible if I can only keep on believing. Of course often I don’t. I fall into despair and wonder why I bother. I have no way of knowing whether I merely talk only to myself when I write. If I attended classes at least there would be lecturers and tutors to guide me. All I have is my own blinkered seeing. How difficult it is to judge one’s own work, to see as if with another’s eyes. But then I suppose this is true for every writer, for there comes a time when even those lucky enough to have enrolled on such dream courses, even they have to step away from the shore and set sail upon the river on a raft of entirely their own making. So maybe it’s not so very different for me after all.
Have I answered the question, or have I done what I so often tend to do, and dithered only, playing around the edges, refusing to actually jump in and swim? Am I swimming yet? Let me try again. What am I working on right now? I’m researching the background for a novel, but somehow the research has taken on a life of its own. I need to learn how to streamline my method, and to acquire a skill in note taking which so far has eluded me. Still on the upside, I am picking up lots of juicy bits of information which may or may not yet turn out to be useful. I am also writing background sketches for my principle characters, getting to know who they are and where they have come from. Most of this writing is pre-writing, and is unlikely to find its way into my novel. On the other hand, it will form the backstory upon which the novel is built, the foundation if you will, without which the tale would crumble. Plus its ‘safe’ writing for nothing really depends upon it, at least not the words. There is no pressure to this kind of free writing. Open the lap top and fly way. Scrivener is perfect for this too as it helps me keep order on what could, very quickly, develop into an unwieldy mess.
But I also write book reviews and poems. My book reviews are published in Calyx, A Journal of Art and Literature by Women as well as online at Story Circle Network Book Reviews. I love writing reviews, though they tend to take forever. It is a challenge to write about a book without divulging the story line or the conclusion. It is also stimulating to attempt to write a piece which both reflects the author’s intent while allowing a little bit of oneself to flicker through, so that in the end this particular review could only have been penned by me. I am speaking of course about that most elusive of qualities – the writer’s voice, which only emerges in and through the process of writing.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
–I write to understand, both myself and others. I write in an attempt to open myself to the discovery of something new, something worthwhile. I write to find meaning in otherwise meaningless events, which appear to occur haphazardly. Writing helps me find the pattern, even if only for a little while. None of this makes my work different from other writers who follow a similar path. The only element which differentiates one from the other is our unique voice. I cannot write like you any more than you can write like me. Oh yes, I can imitate for a while, and not all imitation is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. Studying the masters and mistresses of literature and letters helps me find a doorway through, a portal to the other side. But once I arrive in the landscape of my soul or dreams, then it is time for me to let go of the reins to which I have been clinging , and let myself soar on my own wings. They may not take me far as of yet, but they are mine, and it is entirely up to me whether I choose to use them or not. They will not, however grow strong, unless I exercise them. Perhaps this is the most frightening aspect of all, that it is me and just me who decides where to focus my attention. One can only get so far ‘blaming’ family commitments! Even those eventually ease up leaving pockets of time and solitary spaces in their wake. And then what a to-do, or rather what to do…… What to write – a poem (just like that??], a short story [for what, for whom?], a book review [always safe in the certainty and clear delineations of its accompanying expectations], or heaven forbid, The Novel [ not just ‘a novel’ for I have many of those waiting in the wings to be written, no shortage of stories there], but ‘The Novel’ is the tale I have longed to tell, the one which will tick all my boxes for the perfect read, and which carries such a weight of perfection already even before it has been written, that I baulk at the prospect. What a to-do indeed!
3) Why do I write what I do?
I write book reviews because they force me to slow down and read the book carefully, paying attention to every word, image and metaphor. When reading slowly I prefer to read out loud so that I can hear the rhythm of the language in my mind, feel the lyricism in my body, taste the magic on my tongue. Reading for book reviews is akin to taking a master class with the great writers of yesterday and today, a private mentoring session between their words and mine. Sometimes I simply pick a paragraph and re-write it in my own words, like a student artist sitting with her easel in the gallery painting versions of the great artist’s pictures.
Writing poetry is an entirely different animal, less lean or muscular, soft rather than sinewy, feeling rather than form. At least for the first or second draft, until the revision process comes into play. But even then the approach is not so much analytical, requiring the sharpness of a well-tuned mind, than sensory, calling for a deep listening with the ear of the heart. Unlike book reviews, the aim of which is always to publish and share, my poetry is written primarily for my own satisfaction.
Finally, writing my novel is a gesture of belief, a personal statement that, yes, I will try to trust the process. Sometimes I teeter and fall between the stools of novel or short stories, and even occasionally I play with novelettes. Sometimes I long to indulge in romance, for then my writing helps me escape from the harsher aspects of life.
Have I alighted on one single genre? Not yet, nor am I certain that I wish to. Everything I write plays a part in what is written next, everything is a step upon the way. Where it will end, I cannot say, nor would I wish to know. For now writing poetry and book reviews, side by side with short stories and tinkering with my novel is enough, which dovetails very nicely with my philosophy of life that enough is just perfect.
4) How does my writing process work?
And now at last we reach the heart of the matter, the focus and theme of this particular blog tour. What exactly does my writing process entail? Mmmm, let me see. It involves oodles of procrastination, and huge dollops of dreaming, occasionally interspersed with a flurry of activity when all the words come rushing out all at once so that it is almost impossible to pin them down upon the page. But oh, how good it feels, when they have landed. That moment when the last word has been written, when you know you have said all that had to be said, when the afterglow of cathartic release fills your veins and heart with that deep inner sense of utter contentment and peace, when your head feels heavy with the welcome weight of being, when all is right in the landscape of your soul and what lies beyond seems all of a-piece with what rests within, this moment is what writers pursue, this is the meaning and motivation which drives writers to keep on writing. Everything hangs on this.
So is this the process? Yes and no. Yes, because this is often enough, no need to share it or seek publication. No, because it doesn’t always happen and there’s a bit more involved in writing than simply picking up a pen and beginning, though nothing happens unless this occurs. I suppose the writing process would be better named the pre-writing process, all those elements which together drive the writer to the empty page, soul needs like intention and desire – why am I writing instead of say, sitting at my spinning wheel and creating yarn, what does writing gift that hand crafts don’t? Then there are the more practical questions like what exactly do I want to write? The approach to journaling or free writing is very different from how I tackle a book review, and then again working on my novel is an entirely different beast, requiring not just different tactics but also a very different mind-set, probably the most important element being the need to believe in the story I am telling.
In a nutshell, my writing process is very simple. Decide what I am going to write [this is the most important element] and then start writing. Don’t revise until the first draft is done. Set aside for a day or two, then begin the editing process, cutting and chopping, deleting and replacing, until the piece is as good as I can make it. Then wait a little while again, re-read, re-work if necessary, and finally submit.
So all that remains to be done is to introduce you, my dear readers, to a wonderful trio of intrepid writers, Julie Christine Johnson, Juliet Greenwood, and Autumn Maccarthur, each one a storyteller beyond compare, who will be sharing their writing processes next week, April 28. They are all novelists writing magical stories, spinning tales of mystery and magic, using words and images which sparkle like dew drops falling through the sun drenched mist. Each one of them pens novels which I eagerly and even greedily devour and read. You could not do better than to indulge yourself in a little spoiling by running right now to your local bookshop and picking up a novel or three. [Julie’s novel, ‘Refuge of Doves’, is awaiting publication. As one of her beta readers I can assure you that this is a treat for the heart and soul not to be missed!]
Julie Christine Johnson, Chalk the Sun
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Julie Christine Johnson lives where the Salish Sea meets the Puget Sound. She has called many places home, including France, Chad, Japan, New Zealand, Colorado, Ohio and Illinois, and emerged in 2013 from careers in international higher education and wine buying to embrace the writer’s life full-time.
Julie has been writing fiction and personal essays since 2011 and her work has been featured in the anthologies Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers (2014), Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss (2014), Flash of Fiction (2013), Stories for Sendai (2011) and in the literary journals Cobalt, Granny Smith Magazine, River Poets Journal and Cirque. Her stories have been shortlisted for the New Millennium Writings Award for Fiction (2013), the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Award for Fiction (2011), and awarded First Place, Romance, by Short Story Competition HQ (2013).
She is revising her first novel, Refuge of Doves–set in contemporary and thirteenth century southwest France–and wrestling Draft One of her Ireland-based second novel, The Crows of Beara, into submission. Visit her blog www.chalkthesun.org to say hello and read the latest of her writer’s journey.
Juliet Greenwood, http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/
About Juliet :
For the past twenty years, Juliet has lived in a traditional Welsh quarryman’s cottage between the mountains of Snowdonia and the romantic island of Anglesey. She has a large garden that would have been used by original inhabitants to grow vegetables and fruit to supplement their wages. Juliet tries to follow in their footsteps with the aid of a polytunnel and plenty of experimenting with the results.
After studying English at Lancaster University and King’s College, London, Juliet worked in a variety of jobs, from running her own craft stall at Covent Garden Market to running puppet and storytelling workshops in North Wales.
A severe viral illness over 15 years ago led to years of debilitating M.E. As she fought her way back to health, the experience inspired her to pursue her life-long passion and finally fulfil her ambition to become a published author. Her first novel for Honno Press, Eden’s Garden, became a Kindle bestseller and is now a finalist in ‘The People’s Book Prize’, with the results to be decided in May 2014.
As well as novels under her own name, Juliet writes serials and short stories for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’.
Autumn Maccarthur, Faith, Hope and Heartwarming
Autumn Macarthur is an Australian writer of inspirational romance
living near London with her very English husband, three spoiled cats,
and a guinea pig with a dandelion addiction. She loves reading,
cooking, gardening, and writing deeply emotional stories to make you
smile and remind you how big and wide and deep God’s love and
forgiveness can be. When she’s not talking to her strawberry plants or
cherry blossoms, she can be found occasionally blogging at
www.autumnmacarthur.com, on Facebook as Autumn Macarthur, and on
Twitter as @autumnmacarthur.
Take it away girls!