Since I started Catching Days back in 2008, it’s been my policy (also my personality) not to do the group blog things. Which made it easy to decline the first time someone asked me to join the my-writing-process blog tour. It was less easy to say no the second time because by then I had enjoyed reading many writers’ posts about their process. Then I discovered Robin MacArthur’s post about her process, where she wrote about how she had also said no and then changed her mind, joining “this ever-expanding web of voices.”
So when Catherine McCall wrote a couple of weeks ago and invited me to participate, I changed my mind. Cathy is a friend of a friend, a marriage and family therapist, and the author of the powerful memoir, Never Tell. In her post on process, she writes about “surrendering to summer’s requirements for a nearly constant process of re-prioritizing the activities of my life.”
At the end of this post, in appreciation of the earlier invitations I received, and in lieu of new names, I will give you a link to the two writers who first invited me to participate, as well as a link to Robin’s post.
Here we go…
Novel number four. In fact, on Sunday I printed out a very-close-to-final draft of this novel that I’ve been working on since January 2013. But because it’s still a WIP, I don’t want to say too much about it. But I can tell you that it’s about a young couple just starting out, who love each other to pieces but who want different things in life as far as family and daily rhythms. And this novel is the reason I’ve been scarce here.
How does my work differ from others of that genre?
I bet I’m the only writer who mentions an Etch-A-Sketch in each of her novels.
I write about relationships because that’s where the mystery is for me. How they work. What makes them survive. What destroys them. How to balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the couple. How time changes things.
How does my writing process work?
In the fall of 2012, my youngest son left for college, and that December, my oldest son got married. In January of 2013 my writing process changed. I began to travel to Provincetown once a month for a week. This week away from the life I’ve lived for thirty years allows me to put writing first for seven days in a row. It allows me to cover a room with pages. It allows me the time to take a novel apart and put it back together without being interrupted by things like the exterminator or dinner. It allows me to live where I want to live and look at what I want to look at. And on travel days, I do some of my best work waiting in airports and sitting on planes.
I can write anywhere anytime. When I’m really in the middle of something, words will wake me up at night and cause me to pull over on the side of the road.
I am discovering a new rhythm. For so long, my days were similar and filled with family, and I had to squeeze writing in. Now that the kids are gone and I have this whole week once a month, I don’t feel as if I need to hold the reins quite so tightly at home. I still feel uncomfortable if a whole day goes by without any writing, but I’m trying to learn to be comfortable with that. These days, family comes in quick, huge doses, and then they’re gone again. Or I’m gone again. I’m traveling a lot. The wind is shifting.
If I’m able to choose all the little details around sitting down to write, I will light a candle and face some large body of water, like Cape Cod Bay for example. Some people prefer a wall. I prefer water. A wall would make me crazy. Nowhere to go with my eyes. Nothing to draw out the right brain. A wall would send me into myself and awaken my left brain. The water coaxes me out.
You know how in Ron Carlson Writes a Story (a book I love), he writes about staying in the room? Well, I have discovered that for me, staying in the room doesn’t always produce results. If I get stuck, getting up for tea or to do some other mindless task often allows me to get out of the way of the death grip I have on the words. I’ll sit back down, raise my fingers over the keys, and the words run free.
The particular process around each of my novels has been different. The first one took ten years–I was learning how to write. With the second one, the left brain was still pretty much in charge, and the right brain was just angry–the ugly teenage years. The third novel is where my right brain came of age, putting on a chiffon skirt and sandals and flitting around Europe. And with the novel I’m working on now, the brains seem to be working together in a mature thirty-something kind of way that I am very proud of.
May you find the process that works for you.
Next up (but actually up now)
Claire Guyton at Daily Shorty. Claire was my co-editor at Hunger Mountain, who went on to write a story a day for a year. An excerpt from her process:
I developed my current (tentative) manuscript using index cards, each bearing a story title and notes on voice, length, form, themes, and arresting images and phrases. As I arranged and rearranged and arranged again my stack of cards, I kept drifting, mentally, into the fetal position, marveling that the gift of wordskill can morph into manacled ankles before you can say, “A speculative flash piece in narrative form exploring mortality, confused identity, and ruptured familial ties, with metaphors and analogies using water and blood.”
Jodi Paloni at A Stone’s Throw. Jodi publishes a story a month : ) Anyway that’s what it seems like. An excerpt from her process:
I’m also pleasantly engaged in the heart-of-my-heart project, my novel-in-progress, which takes place in Wellfleet, Cape Cod. I’ve just returned from what I call “a gathering retreat.” I didn’t have a plan or schedule any research appointments. I walked the coast and smelled the air. I slept and ate pastries from the French bakery. I collected artifacts from the beach, and took long drives to re-acquaint myself with the presence that got this thing started two years ago this May. That was also when I also discovered the French bakery.
Robin MacArthur at Woodbird, Them Mornings. In addition to being a writer, Robin is also a singer/songwriter. An excerpt from her process:
I am working on finding a way to make a living, raise two young children, build a house, lead a sustainable life, and write. This is, as anyone who has been here before me knows, no easy feat. I recently started an editing business for myself, which is how I’m paying the bills. My writing—oh, sweet writing!—is simmering in the background in multiple pots. At the front of the pack is my nearly-finished-for-two-years collection of short stories. They take place in Southern Vermont where my father was born, where I was born, where my children were born. They are about women and ghosts and animals and the ways in which we humans are shaped by the landscapes we inhabit.
Happy Writing…however you do it!
Wow, I’d never thought I’d see an office prettier than mine! I love your space Cynthia! 🙂
Forgot to mention, I participated in this blog tour as well and I love all the writers I’m getting to learn about as this tour rolls on. Here’s the link to my post:
Thanks you, Sophfronia. And I’m so glad you left a link to your post. I LOVED reading it. And seeing those pages spread out on the table–LOL I have been there. FYI, I tried twice to leave a comment and the robot picture came up with nowhere to type in the letters.
I love this blog tour and am inspired by your anwwers. The idea of a week in Provincetown is so powerful – a week apart from “regular life,” staring at the ocean, surrounded by the bleached colors and beauty of Provincetown (at least that’s how I think o fit). xox
It IS like that, Lindsey. It’s heaven. And sometimes with a novel, I don’t want to take it apart without the time and space to make it through to the other side–that’s when I especially appreciate my writing week. By the way, I started writing when my kids were 2, 6, 8, and 14. That’s another reason the first novel took so long : )
And here’s the link to Lindsey’s wonderful post about her process: http://www.adesignsovast.com/2014/03/to-be-written/
Congrats on the new rhythm, Cyn. I love picturing you gazing at the ocean while figuring out how to work an Etch-A-Sketch into the next paragraph. And happy fourth novel!
Thanks again for asking me to join in, Claire! And I’m happy to be able to feature your post. Loved it!
I want your process if it involves a week on the Cape every month! I also love your home office with bookcases alternating with windows overlooking a lush garden. I’m impressed that you’ve written 4 novels and are engaged in your latest. My brother loved Etch-A-Sketch (and Lego) as a kid and now he’s an architect. I’m curious to see how you use it in your writing. Happy revising!
Actually, Sarah, the windows overlook lush woods (beautiful especially in the fall and winter) to my right and a tiny bit of yard in front of me (where the kids, and later the little fox, used to play). I did try a garden once a long time ago, but the deer ate the tomatoes. Although you might mean garden in the English sense, but still no. Not a flower person either. No green thumb at all.
Provincetown looks heavenly. Aaaaah…water. I adore the look of it and the sound 🙂 And I also have my son’s Etch-A-Sketch here since he rarely had use for it. There was no way I wasn’t going to get one for him when he was little, that’s for sure! 😀
It IS heaven, Donna. And of course I had an Etch-A-Sketch as a child, but it’s so strange to me that it appears in each novel without any planning or effort on my part. That’s just so odd. But there you go.
Oh, there’s got to be some subliminal, personality-revealing thing going on THERE, I think! Perhaps the need to easily shake away things in life we don’t like and take a “mulligan,” or maybe it’s a subconscious connection showing up as a metaphor for revision! 😉
It’s funny you should mention it, too, ’cause only just a couple weeks ago, when I was in the garage by where I’d put the Etch-A-Sketch, I brought it in and have it near my “desk” (it’s not really a desk) area. It is now part of my collection of mindless, fun, “brain break” distractions for when I’m finally focusing on my novels and need to do that on occasion. Other things I’ve gathered so far: my metal windchimes hung indoors; a small hourglass filled with shimmering blue sand; a small, plastic top; a mylar ribbon dancer, and I’ve compiled a list of other stuff to gather in time, mostly of classic games like jacks, pick-up stix, paddle ball, klackers, stuff like that. Maybe a sandscape thingy, lava lamp, things like that 🙂
I think you’re on to something, Donna, and what a very strange coincidence : )
You and I seem to have quite a few of those lol
Thanks for the mention, Cynthia. I long for a week a month at sea and I long to stay grounded in the room. Oh, for the longings! CAN’T WAIT TO READ NOVEL FOUR. I’m ready when you are.
Thank you for the invitation, Jodi. I loved your post on process. And I’m looking forward to your reading novel #4. Soon. Thanks : )