When I was little, I was always writing stories in my head. I would awkwardly blurt out evidence of this when talking to real-life people. One day when my mom hung up the phone I asked her, “Who were you talking to? she demanded.” I actually said she demanded out loud. And although that was really my only slip-up, I was constantly crafting characters, story-lines, and titles, sometimes writing this swill in my wide-rule notebooks.
I moved on to poetry at some point, and then (shudder) macabre stories based on creepy writing prompts we got in our sixth grade writing class. Most of it sucked. I did, however, win a few awards in high school. I wrote copious volumes of angsty poetry as an undergrad, and then I really stopped writing creatively (unless you count my drunken songwriting efforts when I lived alone after college. Which, really, you kind of should.) for many years.
Motherhood brought it back for me. I remember the day I decided to start writing again. It wasn’t really a decision, though. I’d had an epically bad night of sleep with my two-year-old, a stressful, frantic morning, and then a half-endearing, half-maddening mother-daughter outing. A sentence popped into my head: “The smell of burned toast followed me around all morning, and I could just tell it was going to be one of those days.”
I started writing again. Sometimes every day, sometimes not for months. I thought it would be a book. Of course, that was before my childlike illusion that any “good” writer could easily find an agent was shattered. As I wrapped up writing my book, I imagined my agent, and maybe even a crowd of devoted readers, reading their favorite passages (which, naturally, were my favorite passages, too) aloud to me, perhaps from memory, while chuckling, wiping a tear from their eye, or perhaps doing the slow-clap.
I promised myself I would never blog. (Do you want to know why? Click over to Beyond Your Blog, where the talented and ambitious Susan Maccarelli interviewed me and asked me why I started my blog. It’s quick, I promise. You can read my interview, filled with my blog story, submission tips, and other helpful tidbits right here.)
But back to this writing stuff. In the blogging world, there’s a fun writing prompt circulating in which each person “tagged” answers a few questions about her writing process and then tags several more bloggers.
Today it’s my turn; I was tagged months and months ago by the talented Allison Carter of Go Dansker Mom, and recently by the hilarious Science of Parenthood gals, Norine and Jessica. Here are the questions they asked me:
1. What am I working on/writing?
Well, I just wrapped up editing the soon-to-be-released HerStories Project anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. I am insanely excited for this book release, as I am really proud of the talented writers (including Allison who tagged me!) who were brave enough to submit their essays. The book is all about friendship breakups, and the stories are diverse, unique, and yet unbelievably relatable and poignant. The 35 writers are phenomenal, and we are lucky enough to have Nicole Knepper of Moms Who Drink and Swear (I’m so not kidding. And she’s amazing.) as our foreword author. I hope you’ll all check it out on Launch Day- September 15th! **Update! Now available for pre-order as an e-book! Click the link in my sidebar to pre-order your e-book today!
I’m always working on a few personal essays at a time, with a somewhat nebulous list of places where I might submit them. I have a few humorous essays that may or may not become blog posts (let’s be honest, it depends on whether they get rejected too many times for me to bear), and some raw, heartfelt essays that may just take up space in my Mac for the rest of eternity. I have two eventual book ideas, one of which may not be able to contain itself for many more months. I’d love to think that by next summer, I would be working on my first solo book project But we’ll see.
2. How does my work/writing differ from others in the same genre?
Hmm, that’s tough. My deep personal insecurity is that it doesn’t differ at all, and why the hell should I keep writing when the market is so saturated with other “honest mommy bloggers”? I like to think that I write about parenting honestly, and with humor, and in a way that either inspires, comforts, or entertains other parents. I want my writing to make people feel less alone. But I have to say– there are a great many other incredible writers in my field doing just that. Maybe what makes me separate is that I have less of a style to which I’m committed? Like, sometimes I write a hilarious (in my opinion, of course) list of things from the 1980s, and sometimes I write “helpful” posts about parenting a sensitive child or tips for travel (have I ever done that? Hmm.), and then the next day I’m spewing the contents of my heart and brain because I’ve been pushed to my breaking point by motherhood.
Maybe that actually makes me disorganized, or poorly branded, or a stylistic trainwreck instead of “setting me apart from others.” Kind of like the Sybil of the blogging world. Um. Next question?
3. Why do I write what I do?
Usually I write it because I can’t help it; just like when I was a child, a certain idea, topic, sentence, or event will be jumping out of me, tapping against my brain until I can’t ignore it anymore. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea that came to me in a dream. (Cliché alert!) Again, sometimes I hope that by sharing my experiences I will bring comfort to another parent or alleviate a reader’s isolation. Sometimes I just want to make people laugh. And every once in awhile, I feel I have something to teach.
4. How does my writing process work?
Awhile back I referred to my parenthood “me-time” motto as “taking whatever the hell I can get and liking it.” My writing process is sort of like that, too. Summer has been rough, because I haven’t had much alone time with my oldest child out of school. During the school year, I am fortunate enough to have three whole afternoons a week where I’m not working and my kids are both at school. I try to work in other activities so that I stay well-rounded and don’t become a misanthropic recluse, but I spend a lot of that time writing.
Blogging is complicated, because in addition to writing, you theoretically have to spend time reading other blogs, commenting, networking, and promoting/interacting on social media. Then there’s the post formatting, media editing, and proof-reading. But my favorite days are those in which I just write. I get to return to those nebulous essays I mentioned earlier, and just let the words pour out of me onto the screen. It’s a release. I am a word-vomit writer, one who is lacking in editorial discipline. I’m getting better at coming back to my work later and picking it apart with a more discerning eye, but I really prefer to just (Help me out- whose quote is this? Somebody famous and maybe dead.) “open a vein and bleed.” (Seriously, the first person to identify this quote in a comment wins something from me. I’ll let you know what later. I’m not even going to cheat and Google it.)
I don’t have a schedule, but I do make a lot of lists. If I find myself with a block of time, I prioritize what writing I want to do the most, what needs to be done when, and I try to stay organized that way. Plus, I freaking love crossing items off lists. Is there anything else quite as satisfying? I’ve taken to following Anne Lamott’s brilliant advice from Bird by Bird, and I now stash index cards everywhere. Whenever inspiration strikes, I jot down my ideas on an index card until I can transfer it somewhere more efficient and permanent, like my ginormous overstuffed portfolio notebook. This way, even on a slow week when I know I have limited time to write, edit, or submit, I’m not afraid of forgetting my brainstorms, be they general concepts or specifically worded sentences. I also have a lot of ideas posted on this corkboard above my desk. And a few pictures of my babies, too. And maybe also some braggy stuff and some inspiring tips that I’ll never try.
When I was a kid, I really believed that someday I would be a published author. In some ways, that dream has come true. Decades later, I would still like to believe that I could make a living by writing only. I haven’t given up hope yet. But it’s a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be.
I am tagging three more writers in this fun writing process challenge:
- Leah Vidal of Little Miss Wordy writes about BIG lessons from life’s little moments. (Aside: she is a gorgeous writer and a vibrant, warm, and fantastic woman whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in real life at last month’s BlogHer conference.) She’s also a contributor to the soon-to-be-released My Other Ex!
- Jeannette Bellesfield is a married, full-time working Mommy to two girls (born ’10 & ’12) whose life consists of work, diapers, bottles, stories, naps, craft fails, power struggles and, of course, martinis over at Mommy Needs A Martini.
- Meredith Napolitano of From Meredith to Mommy is a former music teacher (I’m a music teacher, too!) and current stay-at-home mom to two adorable little girls. She was a contributor to the hilarious anthology I Just Want to Be Alone, and I’m excited to say that she’s also a My Other Ex contributor!
Have fun writing your posts, ladies!
Keep up with all my latest posts right here!
This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday.
Today’s sentence was, “When I was a kid, I really believed…”
Me and Kristi of Finding Ninee
And special guest host, Yvonne Spence!
Link up with us below, and share your favorite posts with #FTSF!
On the quote, I found this… http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/
I’m even less organized than you. I don’t think I have a style. I don’t stay consistent with anything. And my writing is pretty much based on whatever mood I’m in.
I totes loved how you said, “she demanded.” That’s just funny.
I love reading about the writing process of other writers. I learn so much, but with this post I also learned that I am not alone. Your answer for number two really resonated. Sometimes I feel so lost in the blogging world, because I have no niche and I have blog topic ADD! I feel like I’m a hot mess and sometimes it’s hard to keep the hope alive. And yes, it is so much work. I had no idea!
I think that quote is Hemingway. 🙂
Reading this was perfect, because it felt like spending the evening with you chatting. I ADORE that story where you outed your inner writer and observer to your mom! That is so wonderful (she declared)! I did stuff like that too, by the way. I would be at work in the embassy and I’d catch myself writing a sentence in my head about one of my colleagues…
I definitely think you differ than others in your genre. I was thinking about honesty in writing today and came to the conclusion that honesty became an end on its own. In your case your honesty always serves a purpose of self exploration and educating through example and there’s great profoundness and self awareness in your writing. Reading it feels like I’m sharpening my own thought process.
I loved reading this and I can’t wait for the big launch on September 15th!
Differ from others. GAH. I should remember to not hit “post comment” without editing first when I’m so tired.
thank you for giving us a glimpse into your writing and mind. you are super organized and creative, I want to write but just don’t have that extra motivation or ability. I’m in awe of yours.
I can really relate to this. It’s so great to be able to just sit and write. I’m a playwright myself, but I got into blogging because it’s a lot easy to get your work seen as a blogger than it is as a playwright!
I think it’s okay that it’s a saturated market. There are new readers every day and lots of people in the same boat, so we can use all the helpful/funny/inspiring posts we can get! I’ll be sharing this. Have a great night!
When I was little I really thought that I would be heaps smart and be able to remember to upload a photo to attach with the link that I would post for FTSF … Ha!
All of that aside, I am a huge fan of your writing. It makes me want to sharpen my pencil and niggle out better work myself. Congrats on the book launch too!
I love this post Stephanie, and can totally relate to having wanted to be a writer my whole life! I often, um always, think in dialogue and I spend my life filing away “scenes.”
Interestingly, unlike you, motherhood took me away from writing. Temporarily anyhow. I was so consumed and overwhelmed by my new life, I lost my way. Yet, now that I’m back at it, and sooo much happier for it, I think motherhood has made me a better writer, more emotional, deeper. Now I just need to keep finding the time to devote to it.
As for making money off writing, I never thought that was possible! Not for me, which says more about how I underestimate myself than the reality of what’s possible. I love that you believed that, naive or not, and that you’re still pushing forward.
I can’t wait for your next anthology! I wanted to offer a contribution but the subject matter was too hard 🙂 but I’d love to read what others have gone through.
Here’s to working on your own solo project next summer, or sooner!
Like you I’ve been writing all my life too. I moved between artist and writer in my imaginings, and at one time was going to live in forest with a cat, a rabbit and a pony. I have the cat.
What you say about differing from others in your genre was interesting – the bit about worrying that you don’t. I’ve felt that way sometimes too, but as I was reading this post I realised that as long as we write authentically we automatically are different from others in any genre – because we bring our individual voice and life experiences. There will be much in common with others, and that’s okay, because that means people can relate. I agree with what Katia says, there’s self-awareness and reflection in your posts.
Stylistic trainwreck? HAHAHA! And nope. You’re awesome. You’re funny, and smart, and write with the perfect blend of humor, insight, and heart. You are different because you’re you, and often voice things about parenting in a way that makes all of us feel like you get it completely, and while yes, dining out with young children often ends with us having milk on our shoes, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love them more than life. I think you do THAT. You let me know that it’s okay to notice it’s only 2:30pm and sigh, wondering wtf I’ll do to survive the next hours while also being overcome with an overwhelming tenderness when I see the back of my son’s neck. That’s rambly and crappily written but you know what I mean.
Yes yes it is a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be. ~sigh. And yes blogging IS complicated. I did a post last week with 10 photos that I had to say something about. For each photo I had to put a little frame on it and then my watermark. UGH it took forever. I don’t like the part of blogging that takes forever and you’re not really writing. But the end result is worth it I guess.
Wow, I’m impressed with the intensity of how you approach writing. One of the reasons that I like participating in this hop is the high quality of the writing from authors like you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings about writing. It’s awesome that you can connect with what happens in your life in a way that comes up in your writing. BTW, don’t worry too much about being different, because your voice is truly unique!
First off, honored, in so many ways, by this post. Second, can’t imagine any of your pieces getting rejected at all ever. I really enjoyed reading this & find it inspirational. You are, indeed, a published writer. And I can’t wait to see what the fall ooens up…for both of us.
I wrote LOTS of terrible fiction from about ages 9-15, then abandoned fiction for non-fiction and history essays and lesson plans….
I love your style — tips, humor, and mommy angst — it’s all good 🙂
Wow! What an awesome response to this week’s prompt! I didn’t even realize it was. I wanted to be a writer and used to write all the time. After working very hard on a story during my junior year of high school, my mother read it and said, “What are you learning at school? You wrote better stories in fourth grade.” Until recently, I never attempted writing a story, short or long. My son has started crafting his own stories which I LOVE and it’s gotten me to write again. Finish the Sentence Friday has really helped me to be creative and think outside the box.
Ernest Hemingway said that! I know I’m not the first, but I take some satisfaction in actually knowing a quote. 🙂
I’m the worst writer in that I don’t write down ideas somewhere I can refer to later. When I have an idea, I run to my laptop (if I’m not already on it) and start typing out an outline. I can’t seem to stick to pen and paper, or phone apps etc. I just have to start typing it out. Which makes for many lost ideas when I’m in the shower, driving, falling asleep, dreaming. Ah well.
I do the word vomit thing too. And the lists. So many lists on Post-its and index cards and in notebooks. I like how deep and thoughtful your posts are. So different from my own tendencies. These “how do you write” posts are so interesting to me. A writer’s process is both so mundane and yet magical.
I stumbled on this post today and it really resonates with me right now. I’m primarily a playwright and I’ve struggled to balance parenthood with writing. Blogging (which I too swore I’d never do) and writing essays has given me smaller, more attainable goals when I’m trying to write an entire play, but even that can be challenging. We write stories to be read and plays to be seen. Getting the work out there feels like a second job sometimes. Thanks for sharing.