A month ago, I hadn’t even heard of The Writing Process Blog Tour – now it’s everywhere! I went online to try to find out where it began, but it’s just loops and loops of writing communities passing, touching, and mingling. It seems that it’s only been going since about the end of last year, and it’s now found its way to the Baltimore writing community. The lovely memoirist, Michelle Junot, author of and the floor was always lava, invited me to join the tour (you can check out her post here) and, at the end of this post, I will pass the baton to three other writers, who will then go on to answer the questions I’m about to answer now … and so the tour wends its way.
1. What am I working on?
I had this fantasy that, with my MFA now behind me, I would have swaths of time to write and cogitate. But I find it’s like those spacious cupboards in a new home that make you wonder how you will ever fill them, and which then get filled to overflowing before you know it. I do have a three-pronged plan, though.
- to look over some of the essays that didn’t make it into Beyond the Baobab to see if I can submit them to literary journals;
- to do the final edit on the screenplay I worked on for an independent study – an adaptation of the novel A Chain of Voices by André Brink;
- to continue researching the diaries of George Barker – the ancestor who began this whole immigration lark in our family back in 1815 – with a view to writing a biography/memoir centered around his intriguing wife, Sarah.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
A lot of memoirs seem to have their genesis in pain and suffering. Think, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Dancing on My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland, or The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. These profound stories of abuse, poverty, addiction, and death have taken memoir to another, heart-rending level. We all have our agonizing stories to tell, to be sure, but my preference has been more towards the curious, the lyrical, the introspective approach. Even though Beyond the Baobab is, essentially, about the hot-topic issue of immigration, and the process was a life changing experience for me, I wanted to try to write about it in a way that was a cross between the precision of Joan Didion and the still, inward reflection of David Thoreau – with a touch of humor thrown in for good measure.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I write Creative Nonfiction because, once I made the wonderful discovery that there was such a thing, it finally dawned on me that I could be a writer. As an actor, and then as a broadcaster, I felt as if I was re-creative, rather than purely creative. The idea of creating something out of nothing was entirely daunting to me. I knew I could never be a poet. (Even reading poetry, more often than not, makes me feel as if I’m missing the punch line of a joke.) I adore reading fiction, but never felt I had the capacity to create imaginary narratives. When I found that I could apply story-telling techniques to real events, it was like the proverbial light bulb going on.
The reason I have written about immigration, specifically, is because that experience of transplanting myself from one country to another made me feel, for the first time really, that I had a story to tell. It wasn’t just that I wanted to tell it; I had to tell it. It remains to be seen if this will be something that will continue to yield material, but I have a sense that my writing will always be about place and belonging in some way or another.
4. How does my writing process work?
In a word, “haphazardly.”
I know the rules:
- Write every day! it’s like finger exercises on the piano.
- Keep a journal! you can mine it for images and ideas.
Well, I’m a flop at keeping a journal. When I look back at jottings I’ve made, I think, “What the …?” The essence of what I was trying to capture has lost itself in the weave and weft of the page.
I do write every day though – even right now, as I am formulating thoughts and hovering over a sentence until I find the word that makes the sense click the way I want it to, I feel as if I’m keeping my hand in. But I don’t plummet down into the depths of deep writing every day. Everyone who has ever said that writing is hard … well, they were right. It was Ann Patchett, I think, who described the process as envisioning the beautiful butterfly that is your writing but, by the time you have wrestled it onto the page, it is a mangled approximation of the lovely thing you had in your head. Getting the scramble onto the page, that’s the thing. Then the honing and re-thinking and shaping – the craft, if you like – that can be gratifying. But that raw part – the getting it onto the page – oh my, that’s hard! Even when you’re dealing with creative nonfiction facts.
I have to write in silence. I can’t imagine how people can separate the noise of an environment from the noise inside their head. I also have to write at a desk or table. It doesn’t matter where, but none of this propped up in bed or slouching on the sofa with my laptop next to the cat for me. Once the raw material is down, I can loosen up a bit. But did I mention that getting the raw material down is hard?
Now … the best part … three wonderful writers to continue the tour:
CarlaJean Valluzzi is a poet, a photographer, and a book advisor for poetry at The Ivy Bookshop. She graduated last year with an MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore; she creates collages and hand-bound books as well as many other forms of paper-based ephemera under the moniker Kitchen Table Press; and she blogs at I Miss Paper Letters & lickable stamps . . .
Jen Michalski is an award-winning fiction writer, who works in forms of varying lengths, including a novel, The Tide King, a pair of novellas under the collective title, Could You Be With Her Now, and short story collections, From Here and Close Encounters. Jen is an integral part of the Baltimore literary scene, and she hosts the Starts Here! Reading Series. She blogs at jenmichalski.com
Anthony Moll writes creative nonfiction, and he has just graduated from the University of Baltimore with an MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts. He served for eight years in the military, and currently holds the position of Coordinator of Veteran and Military Services at UB. Anthony has described himself as “queer” and “bookish,” and his MFA thesis explores his time on the home front during two wars and the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He blogs at AnthonyMoll.com