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!