Sunday, April 13, 2014

Writing About Writing

I may have been seven years old when I wrote my first story. I remember the story largely because it continues to embarrass me. In it, two sisters fight over what color dress to buy for their mother. The older sister is adamant that the dress should be blue, "like Mom's eyes." The younger insists on red, her favorite color. For days the two remain at an impasse.

Do you see where this is going? Sigh.

One day, a light bulb. The girls realize that they can buy their mother a purple dress! Red and blue make purple! What an ingenious compromise!

Mom loves her new purple dress, of course, and the family has no choice but to live happily ever after.


When I was little I wrote fantastically happy things, and I watched every episode of The Brady Bunch multiple times. These two facts are doubtless related. If my own life wasn't going the way I'd imagined it, I could write my way out of it, making sure to draw beautiful circles atop my i's and have all the stories end happily ever after.

Childhood gave me my first clue that writing was power, that I could shape a narrative one way or another, with no one but me the wiser.


Later, teenaged and affecting ennui, I decided that I preferred the unexpected ending. This had to do with my love of all things Ray Bradbury. I read The Illustrated Man over and over again, hoping that some small part of Bradbury's genius might eventually accrue to me. If the story in my head was sad, I would give it a happy ending. Happy story? I would add a devastating postscript, unsubtle as it was catastrophic. But I was no closer to writing about my own life, my own truth, than I had been as a child. It would take years and years of living before I understood that my own story was worth telling, and a few more years besides before I was brave enough to try telling it.

Now I write memoir. I also write about parenting. I place my childhood on the same page as my children's so that I can better understand my complicated past and possibly improve my own parenting at the same time. Assets against liabilities. I also write poetry, when I have something to say that for whatever reason doesn't submit to a declarative sentence structure.

I cannot say that I have a writing process. I am not that organized about writing. I save hyperorganization for the rest of my life. Generally an idea comes to me, or a fragment - two words, a line, or a story from my past that all of a sudden is just begging for release. At this point I would choose to drop everything to write on the spot. Of course most often I can't drop everything, and the writing has to wait, but I am never able to put it off for longer than twenty-four hours. It is an itch I have to scratch; it is a young child tugging ever more frantically at my sleeve.

StilI, I may go weeks between such bursts of inspiration. I'm busy, with work and children, and I don't view the in-between times as worthy of comment or concern. No writer's block 'round these parts. I have never tried to write a novel, so I don't know how that would go. Short-form writing, as I do here, suits me. 

As to where I write, I have to laugh. On the couch? Using an iPad? Nothing fancy. The 'room of my own' is - has always been - inside my head.

The question of why I write what I do puzzles me. I write what I have to write. I do not view myself as having all that much choice in the matter. And as to how my writing differs from other bloggers' writing, well, it's probably more penetrating and certainly more painful to read. Lately I have reconciled myself to the fact that many of my readers do not know what to say after they read my posts. I used to fret about that. Now I get that my writing makes people think and feel things they might rather not think and feel. Those who can bear it, and believe they can learn from it truths to apply in their own lives, stick with me. Those who can't should look elsewhere. There are all kinds of blogs out there, blogs for all kinds of people.

Two blog authors who make me think and feel are Maggie at Magpie Musing and Alejna at Collecting Tokens. Maggie is my sister. No, she's not; she has her own sister. But in odd, symbolic ways, she and I share essential elements of our childhoods. Our mothers, both dead now, were uncannily similar to one another. Maggie writes about anything and everything, and her writing is intelligent and compassionate. She is an observer, like me, drawn to quirks and oddities. Read her. You will learn much about all kinds of things. Alejna, too, is clever and witty, which draws me to her and her blog, a blog as much visual as textual. Alejna is a talented photographer, and what she chooses to photograph is always interesting and surprising. Also, she shares my love affair with words. Indeed she is a doctoral student in linguistics. Visit her, too. I have asked both of these women to write about their own writing processes. Their responses will be posted on their blogs on Monday, April 21st.

(If you've learned nothing else about me via this meme (ahh! the truth will out! this is a meme, called My Writing Process: A Blog Tour), you now know that I am drawn to smart women.)

Thank you to Amanda (yet another smart woman who blogs these days at Amanda Magee) for inviting me to participate in this project. I hope that my take has not disappointed. You may read about Amanda's writing process here, but do read more of her work than the one post, because Amanda writes beautifully and poignantly about life as a person, a professional, a wife, and a mother, and the tension inherent in juggling those four roles, so often at odds with one another.


Christine said...

Thank you for sharing this, Sarah. I have no process anymore. i feel like I am no more words left. I'm the writer who no longer writes. It's actually sort of pathetic.

Sarah said...

Oh, no, no, no, Christine. Don't sound so defeated. You will write again. Consider it just a fallow time. xox

Veronica said...

I took my first creative writing class when I was 7, began a handwritten journal at age 11 and have been journaling ever since, wrote an essay about wanting to become a feature writer when I was 12, had my first newspaper article published at 15, wrote poetry and short fiction as a hobby, became a newspaper reporter halfway through college, earned a degree in journalism, worked in publishing for five years, became a copywriter for a PR agency, did ghostwriting and freelance writing, and then became a blogger. My life and writing have always been One Thing. I'm currently on sabbatical from blogging. I feel like I've shared all I care to share in the venue and want to keep my stories to myself. I'm participating in a project for National Poetry Month but I'm not sure if I'll share the final product online. I love writing Web copy, doing corporate storytelling and messaging. I miss PR writing and would do it again if the opportunity presented itself. As for process, I like to write at a desktop computer. I hate laptops (the keyboards, the small screens, the awkward angles). I am doing the poetry project old school, in a notebook. Enjoying that for a change. I journal in blank books.

Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing, Veronica. Fascinating!

Amanda said...

I loved it, as I knew I would. Thank you, Sarah, for writing, this today and the many, many words over the years that have so handily made me fall in love with you.

Sarah said...

Love you, Amanda.

Magpie said...

the itch. that's it, exactly. thank you for passing the baton on...i think. :)

alejna said...

I loved reading about some of the hows and whys of your writing, and I can't even say how much I appreciated being considered among those who make you think and feel. As I know I've said a gazillion times, your writing really makes me think. And feel. And admire the way you put words together.

I do somewhat wonder about the poor hapless people who don't know me, and click over to my blog. (Surely if they expect to find another writer like you, they will be disappointed. And possibly confused!) But I am excited about exploring my own processes, and passing the baton on to others I admire. So, thank you for that, Sarah.

alejna said...

Oh, and I meant to say how much I enjoyed the imagery of your story ideas tugging at your sleeve. That whole paragraph. I love that, while you must often wait to finish your other obligations, you do not make these eager children wait too long.

Blog Antagonist said...

I have no process either. Never have, I don't think. I could have written this, except for me it was Little House On The Prairie. I keep saying I'm going to write a novel. But what? When? How? Yes, short form memoir is what I do best. It won't make me a household name, but it makes me happy. Once my husband told me I could write that novel if I just treated it like a job, every day, commit myself to writing from 9-noon. Or ten to two. or 3-6. Let nothing distract me or get in my way, let writing be my focus. Huh. Does it work that way for people? Because I think that as soon as I sat down to do my "work", inspiration would abandon me. I'll just do it the way I always have. When I have something to say I will say it, as best I can.

Sarah said...

Maggie and Alejna: May the force be with you, chosen ones. :)

Blog Antagonist: Yep. I fear that I lack the discipline to write a book. But this, how it is now, is fine for me, too.

Ally Bean said...

I'm always fascinated to learn how anyone does anything. I'm taken with your ability to incorporate your childhood ideas and experiences into your here-&-now writing, to make them part of the whole instead of isolated events from the past. Perhaps that's why what you say is so penetrating-- and memorable.

[I found you via Alejna, btw.]

Sarah said...

Thanks for visiting, Ally Bean!

Alexandra Rosas said...

Writing about writing, when it's said this way, is what makes it a lovely process.

Yes, the room of one's own is the one in our head. The same for me. The words struggle to come out, but what inspires them, pushes me on. I know what I want to say, I know the feeling I want to describe, and the work becomes finding the words, the order, the script to carve them out of the block of marble. Just as Michelangelo would say, the sculpture is already there... my job is to bring it out. I loved this.