Thank you so much to Courtney Elizabeth Mauk for tagging me to take part in the MY WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR. Check out Courtney’s two novels, Orion’s Daughters (Engine Books, 2014) and Spark (Engine Books, 2012, and read her thoughts on the writing process here.
Here’s what I have to say about the writing process (this week):
1) What are you working on?
Monday, I finished (and sent out) the first draft of my second novel, LADY LIBERTY. I’m really excited about it. And feeling enormously lucky that I have yet another story I’m ready to dive into.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Oh, I have no idea how to answer this. I love to read and write stories with separate points of view in which characters connect through plot and spirit. Books I love of this ilk are THE END, LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, and GREAT HOUSE. I aspire to get close to these books in my writing.
3) Why do you write what you do?
This I can answer. For my last book, YOU ARE FREE TO GO, I was trying to reconcile a great many things that all had to do with human connection. There was a big prison in my hometown and we were always told to look away from it, but it seemed impossible to me that there could be no meaningful connection between what happened in it and what happened outside of it. At the same time, it seemed, I was watching a lot of people, myself included, wall themselves off from love and support because there was some ideal they (we) were all failing to achieve.
For LADY LIBERTY, it was a bit different. I had had twins, as my protagonist does, and I was overcome with the fears that come from parenting. One day while I was being assaulted by a particularly vivid fear-fantasy related to my children, I realized that if I gave these fears over to the characters in this book, then I could have some control over them and work through them a bit more objectively. I ended up working out a lot about parenting in the book. It was really helpful. Now that it’s done, I need to write another book toute suite in order to cope. Parenting advice to writers: Do this. It helps. A ton.
4) How does your writing process work?
To write YOU ARE FREE TO GO, I filled volumes of journals and worked through the parts I didn’t understand through a Socratic dialogue, of sorts. It was very helpful. Instead of saying OK, today, I’m going to write this, this, and this, I would start my notes with a question: What does Moses want right now? (or some such thing). And immediately I’d have the answer. This was really effective because I could ask very open, vague questions, such as: What do I need to know right now that I’m not getting? And by answering, I’d discover wonderful things that had remained elusive. It was fun, but maybe not all that efficient, since it took me the better part of a decade to write the book.
LADY LIBERTY was entirely different. I discovered the characters and worked out the conflicts and structure in my head while parenting and commuting over a four-year period. By the time I was ready to sit down and write it last summer, it felt like taking dictation. In contrast to YOU ARE FREE TO GO, if I tried to take notes, the book would feel dead. But if I opened the document and began a scene with a clear sense of conflict and desire, it would come alive. Needless to say, I wrote this in one year and it came out whole. I’d recommend this approach if I thought we (as writers) had any control over how stories come to us. In the absence of this control, I suggest praying for at least one book that comes along and writes itself.
In conclusion, I don’t have a process. Instead, each story has its own demands and I figure out how to adjust myself to it. There is also nothing precious about my mental and physical writing needs/spaces. If there ever was, it disappeared the minute I had twins and needed to construct plot while lying on the floor between two cribs, waiting for them to fall asleep.
Next week, look for Writing Process Blog Tour posts by these fabulous writers…
MB Caschetta (mbcaschetta.com) is a recipient of the W.K. Rose Fellowship, Sherwood Anderson Foundation Award, and Seattle Review Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in several magazines and newspapers, including the Mississippi Review, the Red Rock Review, Ecclectica, Thieves Jargon, Del Sol Review, and the New York Times. Her first novel, Miracle Girls, is forthcoming from Engine Press this November.
Sarah Layden‘s debut novel, TRIP THROUGH YOUR WIRES, is forthcoming from Engine Books in early 2015. A graduate of Purdue University’s MFA program, her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared inStone Canoe, Blackbird, Artful Dodge, Reed Magazine, PANK, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Humanist, and elsewhere. She is a lecturer in the Writing Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Carla Panciera (http://carlapanciera.com/), author of the AWP Grace Paley award for short fiction, BEWILDERED (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).