[a note from atop the author's desk]
I thought it might be fun to jump-start writing these musings again with a little capture of what I have been working on lately. Sometimes it helps me to hear how other authors go about their writing process and what their experience of being a writer looks like to help me verbalize my own.
As you may know, I am serving as one of the editors of the literary project The Champagne Room, and as such one of my great joys is facilitating our Contributor Conversations. In these, we talk to our contributors about what they are reading, their thoughts on writing, and the process of submitting it to journals and presses. The hope is that these interviews continue the conversation through our communities and help us all grow in the ever-changing literary world we are in. If you are reading this post, and are interested in additional perspectives on writing and projects, you should go check out those interviews. They are thoughtful, funny, engaging, and just all around great. But here, I am going to share some of my own thoughts, approaches to my writing process, and some of my projects with you.
Currently my literary desk is a bit of a mess, haha. I live my life in a perpetual semi-sloppy state, in which I am writing, reading, submitting, and creating simultaneously. If it seems chaotic, that is because it is. As such, I often have a lot of writing projects going on at once. I am also almost always reading two or three books at a time. Additionally, I feel like I am never really *done* working on a piece or manuscript until it has been accepted by a journal or press and my tinkering is cut off - which, trust me, is a good thing for everyone; over-editing is very real.
My current projects are in a split state right now.
On one side, I have been working to generate "one-off" work that is stand alone. While it may one day become part of something larger, I am doing my best stop thinking big picture and just let myself be creative. I think this is an important part of my writing process in that I often get enveloped in a massive concept and get lost in the weeds of a poem or essay. The way that I try to not get fixated on the larger context is to write nearly everything initially by hand in a notebook or journal.
I recently made a goal for myself of getting published in this one particular journal that I am very impressed by, and as such bought a specific notebook that would be solely for one-off pieces to be generated. Everything about this notebook is non-traditional for me. It is wire bound. It is green; albeit a nice forest-y green. It has lined pages. In nearly every journal I have ever had, I leave the first page mostly blank, save for a "title" for the stuff kept inside, the dates it is kept during, and a little note that says "If found, please return" and my phone number. This last bit is a carry over from college, where I would include my dorm room or mailbox number. It became a sort of ritual. A mild obsession. I couldn't start a new journal without those things. And if you are anything like me, trying to find a single word or phrase to start a compilation of thoughts and ideas you haven't had yet can be overwhelming.
So I decided to try something new. I wrote a note to my new self instead. I reminded myself why I bought this journal, the purpose I chose with that, my intentions, and I wished myself luck. [I have always enjoyed reading my old journals (there are many) because some part of me has always felt like I am in constant conversation with some other version of myself: old self, new self, other self. I enjoy that. Sometimes it is hard to be in that kind of constant contact with these pieces of you all standing around talking (often at once), but I like to hear them, make space for them, and such. At least when I can.]
The first piece I wrote (on the back of that first page, another superstitious no-no in the past) was about the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder part of me. I welcomed that self to the table and asked her what she wanted to say, how she wanted to convey her experience, herself. It was a challenge - because if you are inviting that self to the table you are also handing them the reins - but I felt as if I really learned something in the writing of that piece. I learned about invitations and leaning into speaking up. I hope to be able to share it with you some time in the future.
Writing a single poem or essay always starts with a thought. A voice speaking to me through the ether, through me, onto the page. I think often of myself as a conduit. My stories, my characters, my poems, are all things that needed to birth themselves from me. They need to come out. But not in this kind of exorcism type way. More like the way a mother gives birth to a child. They are always growing inside me and when they are ready they then arrive, and I do my best to guide them along into the world. That is why having a dedicated notebook is so important for me. I need the mental space of the page to spell stuff wrong without that little red line appearing underneath them. I need the ability to cross phrases out or write words above other words. The journal is a safe space where I can simply create and give form to what is inside.
On the other side of my split state of projects, is actual writing collections.
This is something that primarily occurs (for me) on the computer. Typically, I will collect all my "unassigned" poems or prose pieces in a folder called, Uncertain. They usually live there until enough of them accumulate, taking up a nice amount of space and I get a moment of clarity in which I see how they are linked, where I see their evolution together. I am always looking for my work to lead the reader somewhere and when constructing a collection, I find it imperative that each piece move a sub-textual narrative arc forward. Once I see a pattern in the Uncertain folder leading somewhere, it clicks and I create a new folder for these budding works to make their way into a collection.
I currently have eighteen (yes, you read that right) project folders.
Of that eighteen, two are completed full length manuscripts and three are completed chapbook manuscripts that I am submitting to publishers. Of the remaining thirteen, I am only (currently) putting a good amount of attention into five of them. This isn't because the others aren't important or worthy, but I just have been in a zone with each of these five for a bit now and as such am trying to guide my writing in their direction to round out a few more completed projects.
The first of these is a prose work called, everything moves. It is a fictional story based on a very real flood that happened in the Swannanoa valley in North Carolina in 2004. I based certain elements of this story on my experiences attending Warren Wilson College during that time. When the flood happened, there was no (or at least there did not seem to be) a plan for how the campus would handle the flooding of the Swannanoa River, and the campus was without power, water, and support for several days. However, there are many elements that are not derived from actual events and people. I began writing this work the same way as others, in a notebook - pen and paper. I recognize that for me the computer is an editing tool - a shaping space, but the true creative force comes out in that thin line between ink and the page. Once I had written about 30 pages, I began transcribing it onto the computer. During that process, I found that I was able to expand upon a thought or a spot that needed embellishment more easily than when something was coming through the hand writing method. Another part of this is, I always return to what I have written in the notebook to write more. I don't keep writing from the computer, because I lose the voice and texture of the story when I am on the computer. It feels most alive when I am creating with the pen. Additionally, this is one of my ghosts, speaking through me onto the page. I almost never know where the narrator is going to go next or what she will do or say until the pen is writing it. It is a very disembodied experience for me, but one that I deeply enjoy. While I write a lot of poetry or memoir, this fictional story has been a really fun way for me to step out of my "writing about myself" zone and play a bit more with narrative scapes.
Another project I am working on is called The Food Store Diaries. This project began as a singular piece that I wrote about a food store (get over it, I am never going to call it a grocery). Then I wrote another, untethered to the first. Then I wrote another one. After that I saw these three pieces in my Uncertain folder and realized they were all part of this on-going narrative. I setup a new folder and plunked them in there. That single act subconsciously was a generator for five more pieces. These food store narratives are mini-stories, all fairly short, but poignant for the evolution of the narrator. Each story explores different themes that touch on topics like eating disorders, identity challenges, and desire. At this point, I have a page in my notebook with ideas about future additions to this collection. Some are just a location or a memory and others have a theme already attached to them. On days when I am feeling writing-ready, I will grab that notebook and pick one and start writing what comes to me. After I am done working on it for a while, I will leave it be for a few days, and sit and think about it. Then I will move it into the computer and see how I can help shape the story to be the best version of itself. I am hopeful to be rounding out this collection in the near future and begin submitting it to publishers. I am certainly very partial to these weird and wild little stories about my favorite type of store.
The last project I will share with you is tentatively called On The Steep. This one began very differently from the rest. Over the past ten years, I have been writing poetry during/after rock climbing and running excursions out here at 5,000 - 10,000+ feet above sea level. I came up with the idea for this collection well before I cognitively started assembling the pieces. I still wrote each poem nearly the same (by hand in a small notebook, often tucked in a pack), but as I would move them into my computer, I added them immediately to this folder. This collection looks at being a neurodivergent person who utilizes the two activities of climbing and running to help with mental stability, longevity, and finding small pockets of joy along the way. The outdoors has always served as a great source of inspiration to me, and as such writing when out there is EASY - in that it just flows. I don't have to work hard to create, it just happens. I love that. So this collection that is slowly still coming together explores the great beauty, wild dangers, and immense rewards of adventuring at high altitude.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into my creative process, my thoughts on how I approach my writing practices, and the projects I am enjoying working on. In the past, I was really hesitant to share with others what I was creating. I was so nervous that someone would steal my ideas and run with them. But I think we all could benefit from a little more trust and sharing. It widens us to the many wonderful ideas out there about how to approach creative writing and our experiences with it. Plus, no one can write YOUR story the way YOU will.
Have a wild and wonderful day friends.