Sunday, April 6, 2014

How We Write

When the lovely Allison Slater Tate asked if I'd like to answer a few questions about my writing process as part of a blog tour, I said "Sure!" even though I don't know how much of a process I have.

Is drinking tea all day and cruising Facebook a process?

Allison is the talented writer whose post about moms staying in the picture with their kids went viral and landed Allison on the national news. Her piece really touched me, as it made me think of how grateful I am to have been in photos with both of my kids while my son Jack was still alive, even though in some of them I'm wearing denim overalls and a scrunchie.  I love reading Allison's words of wisdom on her blog, and all around the internet for that matter.

Thank you, Allison!


1. What am I working on?

My book, Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love is in the typesetting stage! You can even pre-order it now from Random House, Amazon, or wherever you like to buy books.

It is starting to sink in that my words will be in a book, uh, forever. I'm the type who constantly replays in my head all of the conversations I have at parties, making sure I didn't sound like an idiot, so you can see how I might be having a little stress about my words being in print. Is it too this? Too that? Not enough?

In an effort to keep myself calm, I'm attempting to stay busy until the release date, September 9. This means I'll be blogging more frequently at An Inch of Gray. Not so frequently, I hope, that you'll start telling me to step away from the keyboard, but enough to get some of the random non-book thoughts that have been floating around in my head onto the screen. I felt like I fell off the writing wagon, while writing my book. I know that doesn't make much sense, but the words kind of POURED out of me very early on, and a great deal of time after that was spent just figuring out where to put what, what to keep, and what to discard. It wasn't truly evident to me at the beginning of the process what the book would be about, so I have pages and pages about my childhood and other topics that I didn't put in the book. Maybe some of those thoughts can lead to a future project...

In addition to blogging, I am working on a short article for a MAJOR women's magazine. I've been reading women's magazines since I was a little girl, and I'm so excited I could just scream! This should be a great way to let magazine readers know about Rare Bird. I also think that seeing my by-line next to glossy pages of recipes, face creams, and fashion will somehow, finally, convince 12 year old Margaret that writing is my new gig.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think my memoir differs from others because it is truly a memoir of very early grief. It captures the pain and shock of losing our son in a terrible accident. I began writing it less than a year after we lost Jack, and it was pretty much finished by the two year mark. In fact, some of the material came from this blog, which quickly became an example of grief unfolding in real-time. One day I was posting first day of school pictures of my two kids. Then, I had to tell my wonderful readers that Jack had died the very next day.

I do not yet have the wisdom that comes even 5 or 10 years out from a tragedy. Books with that kind of perspective have helped me a great deal in my own journey, but I hope Rare Bird will offer something, too. Looking at the early stages of grief, without the benefit of years of introspection and the certainty of survival will, I hope, provide an honest depiction of grief for those going through it, and for those called to walk beside suffering people. I did not write this book as a tribute to Jack (although it was very tempting!), or as a how-to manual of survival. Instead, I wanted it to be a glimpse of real loss and real hope that could somehow be meaningful to everyone, because everyone loses something in life, just by living and loving.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Well, I began writing to share small, funny observations about our family's simple, imperfect lives. That was more than 6 1/2 years ago, when it wasn't yet all that okay to let on, even to close friends, that your life was hard and complicated. It was before my friend Glennon's hilarious post "Don't Carpe Diem" went viral, giving women permission to let go of trying be perfect and sucking the marrow out of every damn day. In my small way, I hoped that the honesty that came through my writing would help other moms say, "Yeah. Me too."

When Jack and Margaret got older, they got less comfortable being the subject of my little stories. Tender moments were often followed by, "You aren't putting this on the blog, are you?" Because of that, I began transitioning to blogging more and more about decorating, painting furniture, and thrifting.

My writing changed again after Jack's accident as I found myself digging deep to try to understand how and why what was so precious to us was taken away in a flash. I wondered, on the screen, where God was in all of this. I showed up every day or so to show my readers that I was trying to survive; and they showed up to cheer me on and give me a reason to keep writing.  I didn't want my writing to be too painful to read, but it soon became clear that loyal readers were willing to step into the muck with me as I woke up each day to face life without Jack.

Because of their generosity and commitment, I didn't feel like I had to sugar coat anything. When I didn't feel strong enough, my writers began providing material, too, telling me how Jack's short life was impacting them, and by sharing the mysterious, spiritual signs God was sending them...signs that comforted, whispered and sometimes shouted, "This is not all there is!"

So I guess I have just written what is going on in front of me. Will I always write about grief? I don't know. I'm trying to be open to what comes next.

4. How does my writing process work?

If a topic or an observation comes to me, I jot it on a scrap of paper-- which could be the back of an offering envelope at church, a grocery receipt, or occasionally the small notebook I keep in my big green purse. It would not be that unusual to find a note in my house that says:  "gyno, dog barf, gravestone." I also keep paper by my bed in case I get a writing idea during the night.

I recently quit my job managing a small Christian bookstore in order to have more time to write while Margaret is in school. Unfortunately, this extra time has translated into less writing than ever! I think when my days had more structure, I felt more committed to carving out small pockets of time to write. Now I'm more likely to wander the house, make multiple cups of tea, fluff my back pillows, talk to the dog, or have a snack.

I realized early on that I will never be an early morning writer, just as I'm not an early morning exerciser or socializer. It's like I told my best friend Cynthia-- who goes by Diana in the book-- "Please quit inviting me to meet you for breakfast. It's never going to happen." And in more than 30 years of friendship, it hasn't.

My most productive time to sit down and write is between 10 am and 9 pm. Because Margaret gets out of school by mid-afternoon, I made sure to go away several times while writing my book, just for a few days here and there, so I could power right through those late afternoon hours. I write very quickly, kind of like I talk, and go back later to revise. When possible, I like to let a post sit for a few hours before posting it. Often my writing that touches a cord, however, will be something I've dashed off in the last hour before time to pick up Margaret.

Well, I hope that answered the questions. I am truly honored to share my words and my life with you here on this blog--  yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Thank you for making me feel less alone!

My lovely writer friends Susie Klein, from the blog Recovering Church Lady, and Jennifer Killi Marshall, from Bipolar Mom Life will be answering these same questions one week from today on their blogs. Don't miss out!


McKenna said...

I love this interview Anna. Love the window it gives all of us into how you write and why you do it. I can't wait to read your book and am in awe that you were able to write it. In the depths of grief I turned to writing but not in a committed, driven way, more just to pour it all out.

Alison said...

I loved reading about how you write, Anna. I only knew you when you were in the early days of your grief, and I love that I've come to know you and see different facets of you as a mother, friend, writer, not just through your grief. I cannot wait to read your book!

Allison Slater Tate said...

Thank you so much for doing this, Anna. I loved this peek inside your world. And if I didn't say it already, I think your book title is PERFECT. I cannot wait to read it!


Unknown said...

It was great to read about your process, Anna.
"gyno, dogbarf, gravestone" - I want to know which blog post came out of that!
I'm in awe of how you manage to strip down all the layers and write from your heart about your grief, while still finding ways to write about other things and being a mother and friend.

Anonymous said...

You are a wonderful writer and I cannot wait to read Rare Bird. I would love to buy it on iBooks, if that is possible.

Brad said...

I loved this interview. Your blog was one of the first blogs I stumbled upon when I started this whole internet/blogging adventure and it was in your words that I found the courage and the bravery to start one of my own. I cannot wait to read your book!

Stacy said...

Wonderful, so fantastic to read. So amazing to hear yourself describe yourself as a writer, at last, which you have always, always been. I wonder if grief is all I'll ever write, too... but we write what we know. Someday I hope I know more than grief, but till then, grief will be what I write. I am so, so, so excited to read and celebrate your work, Anna. Honor to know you. xoxo

Anonymous said...

I'm picturing O Magazine!

Loved reading about your writing process. And of course, I will definitely be pre-ordering your book.


Anonymous said...

You are such an inspiration. Your writing speaks to me and I feel as though I know you. I think of you often, not in a creepy way, but in an admiration way. I think of your beautiful boy and sweet girl too. I am so excited to buy your book but I so deeply wish it had never been written, that you would still be blogging about thrifting, painting, and two healthy children. Hugs.

Anonymous said...

As always, thanks for sharing. I am so glad I came to "know" you through this blog and your wonderful writing. I hope your book exceeds your wildest dreams and helps others who are dealing with such great loss.

Kir said...

your process is much like you:
REAL, HONEST and inspiring. There is so much about you that deserves words and so much of your journey through grief that I know will help to heal my own heart.

I can't wait to read your book.

Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

I feel like we sat down and had a nice little chat! This was wonderful to read Anna and I am so excited that you asked me to join the fun next week! Thank you!
Susie - Recovering Church Lady

Sherri Newman said...

This is soooo cool! Love it! Can't wait to see Rare Bird in print! XOXO

Anonymous said...

I looked up the book and the cover was amazing. I remembered the post where you went to Michael's and saw that cookie-cutter photo-frame insert, and saw Jack and Margaret. With many things in life, I think there's "no right answer, it's what you feel," but that was exactly right for the cover. Absolutely gorgeous.

Jenn said...

We have a similar approach to writing. You are so sweet to tag me. I look forward to sharing my answers on Monday. Love you!! xoxo

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Good practice for many interviews to come! But you forgot the marshmallows. Can't WAIT for the book!

Unknown said...

Hello, there! I met you in real life (at cast party for LTYMDC14) before stumbling upon your lovely blog. I love reading this interview and about your writing process! I look forward to your book!

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I have a great passion for your writing, your blog has been so inspirational. I can't wait to read you book and I have it in my cart for pre-order at Amazon!

Unknown said...

I just did this too! Writing about the writing process. I write best in the mornings and I am completely useless, hopeless, any one of those "less" words in the afternoon. I have zero personality between 2 and 4, therefore I can't write.
I'm soooo looking forward to seeing and reading your book. How it won't be "sugarcoated", the sorrow and beauty that will be there side by side. I'm so proud of you.

samonehopkins said...

Anna, I hope the book does really well. I saw you 2 years ago at church dropping off your daughter for summer camp and you seemed as if you were really sad that day. Like alot of moms in Vienna who go to VPC and/or read your blog, I know who you are but don't quite know what to do when I see you. Your writing is great and I really enjoy your blog.

samonehopkins said...

Anna, I hope the book does really well. I saw you 2 years ago at church dropping off your daughter for summer camp and you seemed as if you were really sad that day. Like alot of moms in Vienna who go to VPC and/or read your blog, I know who you are but don't quite know what to do when I see you. Your writing is great and I really enjoy your blog.

Andrea Mowery said...

Anna, you could copy down the dictionary for me and I'd read it. Your words hold so much truth and emotion, and I loved learning about your book writing process. I can't wait to read Rare Bird.