What is writing if not a process, and what is a process if not one of life’s messier gifts that grows us from who we are now into who we are becoming? The more I write and the more I mentor women writers and teach writing to college students, the deeper I appreciate each writer’s unique writing process, a process that leads both writer and mentor on a journey of discovery. One of the first people with whom I shared my own writing process, dropping the veil of pretense behind which I’d been hiding, was the indelible Kate Hopper, founder of Motherhood & Words and author of the memoir Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. Under Kate’s tutelage I stopped trying so hard to be someone I wasn’t on the page and began to allow, ever so tentatively, my true subject—my voice—to emerge.
So it was an honor to receive from Kate an invitation to participate in this writing process meme, a blog tour that passes from writer to writer accumulating as it goes a collage of individual writing processes, which is to say, glimpses into human beings saying yes to the messy gift of showing up on the page.
Thank you, dear Kate, for this opportunity to take a closer look at who I am as a writer and how I write who I am, a worthy definition as any for the writing process, no?
You can read Kate’s writing process here. Here’s mine:
1) What am I working on?
Well, now, here we are at question #1 and already I want to dive for cover. But no more veils for this writer, so here goes. I am working on my third version of my memoir, which began as my MFA thesis. Yep, you read that right, version number three. But here’s the thing: I could not have gotten to where I am any other way because it took a lot of writing and scrapping and starting over and rewriting and no small amount of tears and what I call “off the page” consciousness work to see with clear eyes the story that wants to be told. Make that insists on being told. I had to write through layers of pretense, fear, shame, hiding, and silencing to discover the real story and to gain the emotional distance I needed to tell that story.
What began as an exploration of my identity as a mother in the context of my son’s teen years nosed-dived into an exploration of who I was as a female in relation to my mother: I could not shake an incident that happened between us when I was nineteen. It kept surfacing in my writing, I kept deleting it until, finally, weary from battling it, I said allfuckingrightalready! So I wrote it. For myself. And it was like lifting a manhole off the deeper story: a condition of silence between me and my mother that formed the foundation of our relationship. Trying to understand this silencing led to a new set of questions: Who is my mother? What is her story as a female? Literally the day after these questions emerged I went for a biopsy that turned into a bout with breast cancer. Isn’t that just like life to hand me a frame into which the pieces of my puzzle fit snug as a bug. (Happy to report that a year later I am cancer free and thriving!)
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work insists on exposing the devastating toll silencing takes on a mother-daughter relationship, robbing them not only of their voices and their selves but also of each other.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Because this is my story, which I’ve spent part of my life denying and silencing in collusion with society’s prescription of acceptable stories to tell. For many long, dark years—decades—denial cost me my voice and my Self. Yet my story insisted on being told. That is the power of story, of truth. We deny it at the cost of knowing who we are. Writing my truth within the bigger picture of what it means to be female has returned me to myself. As Bill Roorbach says, “To have a voice is to have a Self, and to have a Self is powerful.” So, yeah, I write what I write to be who I am.
4) How does my writing process work?
Well, for starters, it’s messy and emotionally demanding. One of my favorite quotes on writing memoir is from Judith Barrington: “Living a conscious and reflective life is a prerequisite for writing a memoir of substance.” My writing process is so intricately woven into my attempts at living a conscious and reflective life that I cannot separate the two. For this reason, I think, my writing process involves what I call “snotty” drafts, the writing I bawl my way through to get to a measure of clarity and gain the emotional distance I need to arrive at insight. I always know when I am honing in on the nub—the emotional truth—of a piece of writing because a wave of emotion passes through me and I have to ride out the wave in order to reap that deeper truth. Sometimes I remember that this is part of my process and I am able to ride the wave with an eye toward the discovery I know awaits. Other times I get caught up in the emotion and forget that this is simply part of my writing process, and I do rather undignified things like stomp around the house cussing like a sailor and declaring I quit. Either way, writing for me is a full-body experience. The material has to pass through my heart in order for me to receive its gifts both on and off the page.
* * *
Next! I’m tagging Ginny Taylor, Tania Pryputniewicz, and Suzi Baum, three phenomenal, award-winning writers whose collective works on behalf of women writers is breathtaking. Check out their writing processes, which will post on their blogs on April 7, at the links below. I found writing about my process to be a welcome exercise in clarity and honesty about who I am as a writer. May each of you reap the same rewards!
Ginny Taylor is a writer, teacher, and journaling activist from NE Ohio. As a graduate of the Ashland University MFA program, her essays have appeared in Soundings Review, Jet Fuel Review, This I Believe on Love, Kansas City Voices, and em. Ginny blogs on journaling and yoga at Women of Wonder where she also guides women seeking inner transformation through uniquely crafted writing experiences that help women reconnect to their authentic stories and sense of wonder with their bodies and lives. Staccato Notes, a memoir about a castrato, sexual abuse, and transformation, is her first book in progress. Read about her writing process here.
A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Tania Pryputniewicz is the Managing Poetry Editor of The Fertile Source; she is editing a collection of Fertile Source poems paired with author interviews due out from Catalyst Book Press in the fall of 2014. Her debut poetry collection is also forthcoming from Saddle Road Press in November of 2014. New poems are forthcoming online at Chaparral and Poetry Flash. Co-founding blogger for Mother, Writer, Mentor, Pryputniewicz teaches poetry and blogging workshops for MWM, A Room of Her Own Foundation, Story Circle Network and San Diego Writers, Ink. She lives on Coronado Island with her husband, three children, one antsy blue-eyed Siberian Husky and two tubby housecats. She blogs at Feral Mom, Feral Writer and on her main website. Read about her writing process here.
Suzi Banks Baum makes community wherever she goes. Passionate about stirring up jam, authentic writing voices, artist books, and FeMail mail art, she created Out of the Mouths of Babes; An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others for the March 2012 Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. In its third year, over 75 women’s voices have been engaged in this project. She published An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice and leads the Powder Keg Sessions writing workshops. Suzi is writing her next book, Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers and developing Rampant Sisterhood, her workshops on marrying authentic voice and online presence for authors and artists. She appeared before Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom From Fear” speaking about the courage of mothers with Joanne Spies for BFWW and at the Whitney Center for the Arts with Rites of Passage. Her career as a theatre artist began at Northern Michigan University, to Actors Theatre of Louisville to Circle Repertory Company in NYC. She has appeared in the WAM Theatre 24 Hour Theatre Project and her writing and art appeared in the WAM 10×10 Project at the Y Bar in 2013. Find out more about Suzi and read her writing process at Laundry Line Divine.