Wondering About Other Writers

Early in December, Kristen from Little Lodestar wrote a post called, 9 Things I Wonder About Other Writers, and it sparked quite the response. Turns out many other bloggers share her curiosity, myself included.

I love reading and writing about the creative process, and knew I’d soon have to add my own answers. Scroll all the way down for a list of everyone who has responded so far – if I missed anyone, please let me know in comments and I’ll add you to the list!

Here are my answers with Kristen’s questions in bold…

  1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet? (I share with my husband something that I submit elsewhere only AFTER it’s been published, and I am pretty certain he does not read my blog 90% of the time.)

Not for blog posts. My husband actually has a good eye for typos (alas, I often don’t) but the idea of a snappy turnaround is foreign to him. I could give him a post and not hear back for weeks! So mostly he finds them after I publish…if he reads the post. But he is always my first reader for fiction.

  1. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it? (Comments from my family and friends, either online or in person, are overwhelmingly rare. I’m totally fine with that, but I am curious if this is the norm for others.)

Like many have said before me, this can be a sensitive issue if I let myself dwell, but the truth is, I don’t actually know. Some read my work, like my dad. He is so wonderfully supportive of my writing, as he has been my whole life. His girlfriend, the more computer savvy of the two, signed them both up for my newsletter and to follow my blog, which was very sweet.

My husband reads my blog in spurts. He’ll catch up and let me know about it, but usually not with any feedback. As far as close friends, I’m not sure, but if and when they do I’m grateful.

  1. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

Fortunately (or unfortunately?!) I don’t have that problem since I’m not currently submitting to many other publications, but it has happened a few times. I think when I was younger I would’ve been more likely to feel the sting of rejection and scrap it, but I realize now that sometimes a piece either hasn’t found the right home, or needs to be reworked/reconfigured in order to find one.

Of course there are times when you just have to say enough is enough, which I did with one essay I submitted. It was a piece I wrote for a mothering publication, one that had accepted a previous essay of mine. After getting the rejection, I realized I had been trying to write in a style that didn’t come naturally to me. It reminded me that it’s not about racking up a number of publications, but writing from my heart and in my own voice.

  1. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

I answered this above, but I think the second part of the question depends on the piece. Sure, there are times when you realize, okay this piece isn’t working and I should set it aside (I never delete! I just “hide” things on my hard drive). Then other times it’s a matter of reshaping and editing to make it the piece it should have been all along.

  1. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

I’m not a magazine person, though I used to read The New Yorker quite religiously (before I had kids, alas) and I have an on-off again relationship with Poets & Writers. But mostly, I keep up with essays and fiction via blogs. I use Bloglovin to keep track of them.

  1. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

Daily life, which sometimes includes things I read and hear about. I gather nubs of ideas like crumbs and scribble them into notebooks or on my phone. Sometimes a news headline will spark my attention, other times it’s a phrase or an image. I believe Dani Shaprio refers to it as the shimmer in her marvelous book, On Writing. You know it when you see it.

  1. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

Wow, this is a great question and I’m a bit embarrassed to say I’m drawing a blank. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like… Note to self, new year’s resolution, read more.

  1. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I am loving and savoring Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and am about to give away a free copy! It’s the perfect book for any woman who has been in creative hibernation and is ready to come out, claws unsheathed.

women who run with the wolves

I’m still reading it because it’s not the kind of book you tear through, at least not for me. I read a few pages at night, or when I can steal a moment during the day, and her powerful words invigorate, inspire, and more often than not, give me chills.

The funny thing is, I tried to read it in college and failed. It was too dense or perhaps I wasn’t ready for her wisdom. But last year my dear friend Anastasia, an artist and writer, suggested I try again, and her recommendation was so persuasive and spine tingling, I ordered it right away.

I’ve since recommended it my friend Janice, an artist and jewelry maker, who coincidentally couldn’t get through it in her 20s either. So far I think she’s enjoying it. On her family holiday card she added this line on the back, which I loved so much I put it on my cork board in my office:

time of the wolf

  1. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax? (Obviously we all grow as writers and looking back at our “clunkier” writing can be cringeworthy…that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean are there things you wish you hadn’t said out loud either because of what you said or how you said it. I’m not in this position right now, but some things I’d like to write about might get me there. And yet…how can I ignore those topics, you know?)

I have. It was content, and at the time I thought I was being sensitive to the person I was writing about, but turns out, not so much.

Without going into too much detail, I wrote about a personal experience with my daughter that was traumatic for my family, which occurred at a friend’s home. Months later I found out she had been terribly hurt by the post. Sadly to say, even after a heartfelt apology we are no longer close. I’ve since deleted it and am now more conscientious when writing about people in my life.

I wrote my reflections about that experience here.

I think there was a better way to write about what happened, and my advice to people is to pause before hitting “publish” – especially if it’s very soon after a traumatic event. I’m not talking about censoring controversial topics or strong opinions, but being cautious when our words may hurt the people we love.

Thank you Kristen for igniting this amazing ongoing dialogue with your wise and wonderful questions. Here is my additional question:

How do you balance blogging with other kinds of writing, if you happen to do both? (Or if you write for more than one blog.) Do you allot time for each? Do you feel guilty, like I sometimes do, when I choose to write a blog post over working on my albatross, I mean novel? Have you ever taken a blogging hiatus to finish a different project? I’m super curious to know how other writers deal with this, since finding a balance is a struggle for me.

Interested in sharing your behind the scenes writerly habits? If so, feel free to post your answers in comments or on your own blog. I will definitely come by and read them. 

Here is the list of bloggers who have answered Kristen’s questions. Please take a look, I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s responses! 

Nina Badzin

Lindsey Mead (A Design So Vast)

Lara Anderson (Joy, Lovely Joy)

Justine Uhlenbrock (Heirloom Mothering)

Andrea Jarrell

Stacey Loscalzo

Tricia Mirchandani (Raising Humans)

Rivki Silver (Life in the Married Lane)

Zsofia McMullin (Hunglish Girl)

Rebecca Klempner

Sarah Brentyn (Lemon Shark)

Being Rudri

A.F. Marcom

Evelyn Lauer

Katie Sluiter (Sluiter Nation)

What I’m Writing

One of the reasons I started this blog was to find and foster community among my fellow mother-writers, and I’ve already found a lovely one in Maddy over at Writing Bubble. She invited me to join her weekly link up that she co-hosts with Chrissie over at Muddled Manuscript (oh, I love that name) called, “What I’m Writing,” which of course I can’t resist.

This week I’ve spent much of my (minimal) writing time polishing up the rusty bits of a blog post and formatting my very first newsletter (!) that I will be sending out shortly. I really enjoyed writing the newsletter, but felt a bit guilty that I wasn’t working on the novel.

Oh, the novel! It’s like my albatross, but a very special and beloved albatross that I tend to with absolute devotion despite its overwhelming weight and refusal to budge off my neck.

Photo Credit: ultomatt via Compfight cc They look so innocent flying in the air.

Photo Credit: ultomatt via Compfight cc
They look so innocent flying in the air.

But I will say, I’ve made progress on it this year. Last January I dusted off my woefully neglected albatross, I mean, manuscript – one that sat in a safe (literally, a safe!) for five years. I had finished it just two days before giving birth to my daughter…who is now six and a half. Do the math if you must. It’s not pretty.

Photo Credit: elseniorfox via Compfight cc Ok, it wasn't this old.

Photo Credit: elseniorfox via Comp fight cc
Ok, it wasn’t quite this old.

One day while my daughter was in kindergarten and my son with his sitter, I read the whole thing, from start to finish. I don’t know what I expected, certainly not perfection or genius (I’m not that deluded), but I also didn’t think it would be total garbage (though parts came close). When I finally put the pages down I felt a strange sense of relief. I knew what I had to do. Start again.

I salvaged what I could, about sixty pages, and then cut the rest of it. There is still a file on my computer with 200+ pages that should for all intents and purposes be deleted but I can’t bear to do so, yet. Since then I’ve written many, many more pages, some of which have made the cut while many more have not.

You have to be ruthless as a writer, but you also have to hold onto a certain naiveté or willful ignorance. Dani Shapiro says it well in her book, Still Writing:

“So how do we make peace with the knowledge that every word, every sentence we write may very well hit the cutting room floor? Well, we don’t make peace with this knowledge. We willfully disregard it.”

That’s what I’m doing as I work on my novel. Some days the task feels so monumental, so overwhelming, it’s like chipping away at a glacier with a toothpick.

Photo Credit: blue polaris via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: blue polaris via Compfight cc

But I keep on going, not knowing what will be saved or cut, not knowing if this latest draft will be good enough to merit an edit, and then, after that, if it will ever be read by eyes other than my own.

I’m writing in the dark, slow and steady like the tortoise because my kids are young and underfoot, and that’s how it has to be, for now.

But I sense with a kind of animal instinct, or maybe just a writerly one, that I’m approaching something with my novel. There is a quickening, a slight uptake in the beating of my heart. I feel as though I’m on a roller coaster, ratcheting up the tracks. Before all I could hear was the steady clacking sound, but now I can see something too, a glimmering in the distance. I am getting closer to the top. Closer than I have been. If I keep going I will finish. And that is my goal.

What are you working on? Are you chipping away a sliver at a time or are you making great gouges?


Being a Mom is NOT Enough (For Me)

Writing those words is not easy. Feels a little taboo, like something a mom is never supposed to admit.

Then there’s the whole people pleaser part of me that doesn’t want to make anyone mad. But this idea has been sitting on the back burner of my mind for a while now, simmering like a pot of water. Steam is escaping out of the edges and the lid is rattling. Time to look inside.

Photo Credit: *floydgal* via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: *floydgal* via Compfight cc

I believe being a mom can be enough, and is enough for some women.

Let me go deeper – I believe that being a mom is enough for some women at certain times of their children’s lives. Like for me, when my kids were infants, all I could do was nurture them and try to get enough sleep in between night wakings to stay alive. Writing was not on my priority list back then. Things like showers and sleep were.

During my daughter's newborn stage.

During my daughter’s newborn stage. A mommy nap.

But as the years rolled by there came a point when I realized I needed something else, something that belonged just to me.

I wonder about my own mother. Was being a mom enough for her? Unfortunately, we never had a chance to be moms at the same time and explore these types of questions. She died a year before my daughter was born.

Me and my mom, May 1977

Me and my mom, May 1977

She was a stay at home mom by choice, and I know that was important to her, in part because her own mother worked long hours after her husband died young. My mom never wanted us to experience the loneliness she felt as a child, and so even when she worked part-time or volunteered, she was always there to greet us after school.

This clearly influenced me. I wanted to offer my children what she did, and I have, while also trying to pursue my writing. My mom was an artist too, a talented sculptor whose beautiful and haunting creations outlived her.

susan schwartz masks

Unfortunately for her – and for our whole family – she was diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis when she was just forty years old, a disease that cruelly took away her mobility, one limb at a time, in rapid succession. Her deft fingers that sculpted vases and bowls, that painstakingly etched emotion into clay faces, were rendered useless. Her art endures though, as does her signature. And her love.

mom signature green

I’m soon to approach that milestone birthday, and I wonder if I’m holding onto a kernel of fear that something may befall me and derail my creative ambitions, like what happened to her. Perhaps that is what pushes me to write now with more urgency than before.

Or perhaps I’m finally ready to write with fervor.

I am fortunate that I have two healthy children, and the luxury of choice to stay home with them. I am grateful to my partner for supporting our family financially, for my health, and my ability to pursue my dreams.

me and kids winter 2014

I want to be their mother AND a writer.

And so, that’s what I’m finally trying to do.

today i will make magic happen