When I was little, I was always writing stories in my head. I would awkwardly blurt out evidence of this when talking to real-life people. One day when my mom hung up the phone I asked her, “Who were you talking to? she demanded.” I actually said she demanded out loud. And although that was really my only slip-up, I was constantly crafting characters, story-lines, and titles, sometimes writing this swill in my wide-rule notebooks.
I moved on to poetry at some point, and then (shudder) macabre stories based on creepy writing prompts we got in our sixth grade writing class. Most of it sucked. I did, however, win a few awards in high school. I wrote copious volumes of angsty poetry as an undergrad, and then I really stopped writing creatively (unless you count my drunken songwriting efforts when I lived alone after college. Which, really, you kind of should.) for many years.
Motherhood brought it back for me. I remember the day I decided to start writing again. It wasn’t really a decision, though. I’d had an epically bad night of sleep with my two-year-old, a stressful, frantic morning, and then a half-endearing, half-maddening mother-daughter outing. A sentence popped into my head: “The smell of burned toast followed me around all morning, and I could just tell it was going to be one of those days.”
I started writing again. Sometimes every day, sometimes not for months. I thought it would be a book. Of course, that was before my childlike illusion that any “good” writer could easily find an agent was shattered. As I wrapped up writing my book, I imagined my agent, and maybe even a crowd of devoted readers, reading their favorite passages (which, naturally, were my favorite passages, too) aloud to me, perhaps from memory, while chuckling, wiping a tear from their eye, or perhaps doing the slow-clap.
I promised myself I would never blog. (Do you want to know why? Click over to Beyond Your Blog, where the talented and ambitious Susan Maccarelli interviewed me and asked me why I started my blog. It’s quick, I promise. You can read my interview, filled with my blog story, submission tips, and other helpful tidbits right here.)
But back to this writing stuff. In the blogging world, there’s a fun writing prompt circulating in which each person “tagged” answers a few questions about her writing process and then tags several more bloggers.
Today it’s my turn; I was tagged months and months ago by the talented Allison Carter of Go Dansker Mom, and recently by the hilarious Science of Parenthood gals, Norine and Jessica. Here are the questions they asked me:
1. What am I working on/writing?
Well, I just wrapped up editing the soon-to-be-released HerStories Project anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. I am insanely excited for this book release, as I am really proud of the talented writers (including Allison who tagged me!) who were brave enough to submit their essays. The book is all about friendship breakups, and the stories are diverse, unique, and yet unbelievably relatable and poignant. The 35 writers are phenomenal, and we are lucky enough to have Nicole Knepper of Moms Who Drink and Swear (I’m so not kidding. And she’s amazing.) as our foreword author. I hope you’ll all check it out on Launch Day- September 15th! **Update! Now available for pre-order as an e-book! Click the link in my sidebar to pre-order your e-book today!
I’m always working on a few personal essays at a time, with a somewhat nebulous list of places where I might submit them. I have a few humorous essays that may or may not become blog posts (let’s be honest, it depends on whether they get rejected too many times for me to bear), and some raw, heartfelt essays that may just take up space in my Mac for the rest of eternity. I have two eventual book ideas, one of which may not be able to contain itself for many more months. I’d love to think that by next summer, I would be working on my first solo book project But we’ll see.
2. How does my work/writing differ from others in the same genre?
Hmm, that’s tough. My deep personal insecurity is that it doesn’t differ at all, and why the hell should I keep writing when the market is so saturated with other “honest mommy bloggers”? I like to think that I write about parenting honestly, and with humor, and in a way that either inspires, comforts, or entertains other parents. I want my writing to make people feel less alone. But I have to say– there are a great many other incredible writers in my field doing just that. Maybe what makes me separate is that I have less of a style to which I’m committed? Like, sometimes I write a hilarious (in my opinion, of course) list of things from the 1980s, and sometimes I write “helpful” posts about parenting a sensitive child or tips for travel (have I ever done that? Hmm.), and then the next day I’m spewing the contents of my heart and brain because I’ve been pushed to my breaking point by motherhood.
Maybe that actually makes me disorganized, or poorly branded, or a stylistic trainwreck instead of “setting me apart from others.” Kind of like the Sybil of the blogging world. Um. Next question?
3. Why do I write what I do?
Usually I write it because I can’t help it; just like when I was a child, a certain idea, topic, sentence, or event will be jumping out of me, tapping against my brain until I can’t ignore it anymore. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea that came to me in a dream. (Cliché alert!) Again, sometimes I hope that by sharing my experiences I will bring comfort to another parent or alleviate a reader’s isolation. Sometimes I just want to make people laugh. And every once in awhile, I feel I have something to teach.
4. How does my writing process work?
Awhile back I referred to my parenthood “me-time” motto as “taking whatever the hell I can get and liking it.” My writing process is sort of like that, too. Summer has been rough, because I haven’t had much alone time with my oldest child out of school. During the school year, I am fortunate enough to have three whole afternoons a week where I’m not working and my kids are both at school. I try to work in other activities so that I stay well-rounded and don’t become a misanthropic recluse, but I spend a lot of that time writing.
Blogging is complicated, because in addition to writing, you theoretically have to spend time reading other blogs, commenting, networking, and promoting/interacting on social media. Then there’s the post formatting, media editing, and proof-reading. But my favorite days are those in which I just write. I get to return to those nebulous essays I mentioned earlier, and just let the words pour out of me onto the screen. It’s a release. I am a word-vomit writer, one who is lacking in editorial discipline. I’m getting better at coming back to my work later and picking it apart with a more discerning eye, but I really prefer to just (Help me out- whose quote is this? Somebody famous and maybe dead.) “open a vein and bleed.” (Seriously, the first person to identify this quote in a comment wins something from me. I’ll let you know what later. I’m not even going to cheat and Google it.)
I don’t have a schedule, but I do make a lot of lists. If I find myself with a block of time, I prioritize what writing I want to do the most, what needs to be done when, and I try to stay organized that way. Plus, I freaking love crossing items off lists. Is there anything else quite as satisfying? I’ve taken to following Anne Lamott’s brilliant advice from Bird by Bird, and I now stash index cards everywhere. Whenever inspiration strikes, I jot down my ideas on an index card until I can transfer it somewhere more efficient and permanent, like my ginormous overstuffed portfolio notebook. This way, even on a slow week when I know I have limited time to write, edit, or submit, I’m not afraid of forgetting my brainstorms, be they general concepts or specifically worded sentences. I also have a lot of ideas posted on this corkboard above my desk. And a few pictures of my babies, too. And maybe also some braggy stuff and some inspiring tips that I’ll never try.
When I was a kid, I really believed that someday I would be a published author. In some ways, that dream has come true. Decades later, I would still like to believe that I could make a living by writing only. I haven’t given up hope yet. But it’s a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be.
I am tagging three more writers in this fun writing process challenge:
- Leah Vidal of Little Miss Wordy writes about BIG lessons from life’s little moments. (Aside: she is a gorgeous writer and a vibrant, warm, and fantastic woman whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in real life at last month’s BlogHer conference.) She’s also a contributor to the soon-to-be-released My Other Ex!
- Jeannette Bellesfield is a married, full-time working Mommy to two girls (born ’10 & ’12) whose life consists of work, diapers, bottles, stories, naps, craft fails, power struggles and, of course, martinis over at Mommy Needs A Martini.
- Meredith Napolitano of From Meredith to Mommy is a former music teacher (I’m a music teacher, too!) and current stay-at-home mom to two adorable little girls. She was a contributor to the hilarious anthology I Just Want to Be Alone, and I’m excited to say that she’s also a My Other Ex contributor!
Have fun writing your posts, ladies!
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This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday.
Today’s sentence was, “When I was a kid, I really believed…”
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