Thanks for visiting this fifth stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour. At each stop, your respective host talks about his or her writing process and then hands you off to the next writer in line.
Thank you, Kurt R. A. Giambastiani, for passing the torch to me. (Shari, you’re next). I encourage you to follow the chain and read the other contributions. Each writer provides some interesting insights by answering a few simple questions:
- What am I working on?
- What’s my background?
- How does my work differ from others in its genre?
- Why do I write what I do?
- How does my writing process work?
Now it’s my turn. I am a memoirist, which means I will be writing about my process for writing about myself. As I stare into the reflecting pool, I will try, as always, to balance my narcissism with self-deprecation.
What am I working on?
I’m still recovering from the effort of completing my second book, and I’m not ready to face a blank page just yet. Until then, I am revising a piece I wrote a few years ago about my 24-hour tour of an aircraft carrier, the USS John C Stennis. I plan to make it part of a collection of shorter works, but, in the near term, I intend to send it to the Navy as a “thank you” for catapulting me off the deck of their carrier. It was a great day.
Once I am ready to take on another book-length project, I will pen the tale of my family’s trek to Europe last summer: eight people traveling through Europe for three weeks. Hilarity – and occasional misery – ensued.
What is my background?
Northern European. I’m not sure I understand the question.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I am not particularly well read in the memoir genre, so I can’t say definitively what sets me apart. I can say I am a fan of Bill Bryson, Lewis Grizzard, and A.J. Jacobs. I like to think my books would be placed on the same bit of bookstore shelf space as those fellows. I would label the shelf Humorous Memoir.
The primary difference between my writing and theirs is I’m writing about my life. I don’t believe my life is inherently more interesting than theirs, but it’s the one with which I’m most familiar.
Why do I write what I write?
There are three reasons I write: for me, for my kids, and for you (yes, you).
I write for me because I want to remember stuff. I seem to have a hard time accessing memories stored in my cranial database, so I like to write them down. Taking the time to write the stories – and craft them into something worth reading – is a satisfying way to remind myself of the places I’ve been, the experiences I’ve had, and the myriad ways I have embarrassed myself in public.
I write for my kids because I loved listening to my dad tell stories of his life. He was a storyteller, not a writer, so many of his tales are fading from my memory. I want my kids to be able to read my stories (if they should happen to find it interesting).
I write for you because I believe I have something to offer. For example, I believe even the most dedicated sofa surfer can run a marathon and I believe that a love for heavy metal music does not correlate to a proclivity to worship the devil. I have come to those beliefs through my life experiences, and I suspect there are a few of you who would find it interesting, perhaps informative, even (dare I say it?) inspiring. At a minimum, I think I can make you laugh. Sometimes that’s enough.
How does my writing process work?
I do most of my writing on the computer. Occasionally I will write longhand when I am inspired and don’t have a keyboard nearby, but I hate transcribing from longhand onto the computer. It’s such a nuisance to write it again.
There are four basic parts of my writing process: the subject, the way in, the writing, and the editing.
- The Subject – as a memoirist, choosing a subject is not much more sophisticated than choosing some part of my life to write about. I ponder a theme that seems substantial enough to ramble on about for a few dozen pages – such as running marathons, a deep and abiding passion for heavy metal music, or spending three weeks in Europe.
- The Way In – I spent many years wanting to write a book about my love for heavy metal. I created rough outlines of the material – chapter titles, lists of anecdotes, themes, etc. – that equated to architectural design work. To torture the metaphor a bit, I knew the building I wanted to build, but I wasn’t ready to start construction until I figured out where the front door was. I was looking for some entry point that would get me started in the real writing. I finally came upon the way in when I listened to an NPR story about the frustration of Latin Jazz musicians whose category had been eliminated from the Grammy awards. I mused on how that compared to heavy metal and all its obscure sub-genres. I wrote a couple pages about it and, suddenly, I was in and able to start building a book. In the end, ironically, I dropped the Grammy story from the book. It just wasn’t a good fit even though it represented the ceremonial first shovel full of dirt on the project.
- The Writing – The biggest challenge is forcing myself to write. When working on a book project, some weeks I write a page a day, some weeks I write nothing. Some days I write for six hours (with breaks, of course) and feel anxiety over writing about life rather than living it. Even as I type the words, I feel the need to stop and do something more productive, like laundry or watching The Daily Show. The more I like what I’m writing about – some part of my life that is fun to recall and write about in a clever, funny way – the easier it is to keep going. The most anxiety-ridden writing is the stuff that doesn’t seem as fun but is ultimately necessary to tell the whole story. I’m sweating just thinking about it.
- The Editing – Of course, the most important part of the process is the revising, re-writing, and editing. First, I do a rough edit to ensure the text is complete and, largely, coherent. Next, I read the text out loud to listen for errors and try to ensure that the written words mimic my pattern of speech. I also want to make sure it’s funny. This is my attempt to honor my dad’s storytelling. After I’m satisfied, I share the manuscript with beta readers – good friends who like me but are willing to tell me the truth about what’s not working. This stage is followed by sulking and, ultimately, more re-writing, revising, editing, editing, editing, and editing.
In short, to quote Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing, I love having written.”
Thanks for reading. I now invite you to visit Random & Rhyme, the blog of my friend Shari. She is a thoughtful writer/poet struggling with the demands of a “real” job and her passion for travel, people, adorable dogs, and the pursuit of happiness. I’m eager to hear from her.