When I was a kid, I wrote letters. Real letters. By hand. Sometimes chain letters. Who has time for that anymore? (Besides the fact that stamps now cost 49 cents. Ouch.) I’ll still send an occasional handwritten thank-you, but I stopped saying yes to every chain that came along… until Marci Rich tapped me to participate in this Writing Process one. An invitation to talk craft? Yes, ma’am!
Marci writes the award-winning Midlife Second Wife blog, which has gotten over 70,000 hits since she launched it in August 2011. So well-written, some of her posts have been picked up by The Huffington Post. (Here’s her reflection on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.) So I’m honored Marci tapped me for this chain. And I’m thrilled to tap three more writers to keep the chain going: Mindy McGinnis, M.A. Hoak, and Laurie Morrison. Scroll down for more information about them and their writing!
And now… for the chain… here we go with the 4 questions:
(A) What am I working on?
I’m scrambling to complete the first draft of a new novel, scrambling because I promised my agent something in early April before I quite realized just how soon April would arrive. I made that promise three weeks ago when it was snowing in Virginia… again… and spring seemed unbelievably far away. At that point, I’d written thirty-seven chapters (well, fifty-something if you count the ones I’d scrapped), so you’d think I could wrap it up by April, right? But after I made the promise, it hit me that I didn’t yet have a novel, and I kind-of freaked out. I had characters and a setting and a lot of stuff going on, but no unifying emotional arc that would hold it all together. Thinking about my promise made me break out in a pinkish rash. It itched. I did yoga to make myself chill out.
I went into step-back-and-mull-it-over mode. What desire was strong enough to drive the wayward plot? I’d already revised chapter one multiple times, and it wasn’t working. It didn’t set up the trajectory of the story—a tale about a group of boys at a summer program for gifted musicians. During my freak-out, I questioned the whole thing and feared I’d have to tell my agent, sorry, no can do.
Then I scrambled, and you know what? Deadlines are good. I’d started this novel last year, but when Brotherhood came out in the fall, I couldn’t keep up my regular writing schedule. I was too busy with book release hoopla, then school visits. The April deadline helped me re-focus, turn down a few invitations, and postpone requests for editing services. Over the past month, the novel has started to come together. I think. Maybe. I might even make my arbitrary deadline. Not tomorrow (which—eeh gads—is April already), but soon.
(B) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Broadly, my genre is YA, and within that, my current work-in-progress falls into the sub-genre of LGBT literature. In many LGBT stories, the protagonist comes to terms with his or her sexual identity or gender orientation, but my novel will differ in that my straight character will struggle with his homophobia. My first novel, Brotherhood, differed from others of its genre (Civil War historical fiction) by focusing on the aftermath of the war (period of Reconstruction) rather than the war, itself, and doing so not from the viewpoint of the Union, but from that of the defeated South.
(C) Why do I write what I do?
My first novel wrestled with racism, and now I’m wrestling with homophobia. The new one (as yet untitled) also addresses issues of faith, and includes characters who run the gamut from fundamentalist Christian to atheist. So to answer this question, I’d say that I love to write about stuff that interests me—stuff I like to talk about! And I especially enjoy writing for teenagers.
I often think about the fact that kids aren’t responsible for their parents’ views or mistakes or successes, or the way their parents sought to raise them. They’re stuck. Or they’re lucky. They’re born or adopted into whatever family they’re in, and they get what they get. Around the time kids hit middle school, they begin to separate from parents, question authority, and contemplate a future that is self-directed rather than parent-directed. And I wonder how they do that. How did I do it? How does a kid raised in, say, a prejudiced home, overcome those prejudices? How does a kid raised to follow his father’s calling come to find his or her own? In some ways, maybe I’m still asking myself these questions, and I guess that’s why I write what I do.
(D) How does your writing process work?
My process is messy, as you might gather from my answers above. I write to figure out my characters and what motivates them. I don’t outline. I do pay attention to the details in a setting because until I have the physical qualities of a place and a sense of the time (year, month, day, hour), I have trouble making my characters take action. Once they’re in a specific place, I listen to them. I watch them. I feel them. I try to inhabit them and experience their world vicariously. I put one character into another character’s face and see what happens. I throw obstacles at them and duck when they throw things back.
In that sense, my writing process is something like method acting, except that I’m not finished when I’ve acted out a moment. I have to write it down. I have to describe the physicality of what just happened. The process is slow and messy and not exactly lucrative. But I love it, and I’d spend even more hours writing each day, if I weren’t hampered by the bother of having to eat, sleep, wash, etc. Once I learned to embrace my messiness (thank you, Uma Krishnaswami, for helping me accept my process for what it is), I came to love it. My best days are the ones when I write for hours… and hours… and hours… uninterrupted.
What are other writers’ processes like? Stay tuned! This blog chain continues one week from today with posts from these awesome writers:
Mindy McGinnis is the author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, as well as being a full-time YA librarian. She and I met online last year through the “Lucky 13s,” a group of debut 2013 authors who write for young readers. She blogs at Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire.
And talk about librarians! M.A. Hoak is a native Floridian (a relatively unknown species). She works as a Youth Library Assistant and spends most of her time up to her elbows in books, glitter, and glue. Her poetry has been published in The Saw Palm and Cantilevers Literary Magazine. She has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts (where she and I met) and her debut novel is forthcoming. She blogs at The Loudmouth Librarian.
And talk about Vermont! That’s where I also met the third writer I’m tapping for this blog chain. Laurie Morrison has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and primarily writes contemporary YA fiction. She lives in Philadelphia, where she teaches middle school English, and loves to read and bake. She is represented by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, Inc.
Leave a message to tell me about your writing process, and check out the blogs of these three writers to see how they approach their craft. Happy writing, y’all…
16 thoughts on “#MyWritingProcess”
Anne, thank you so much for saying yes to this “chain”! I love your enthusiasm for writing–it’s infectious and inspiring. I so appreciate the chance to peek into your writing room to see how you make the donuts. I’ll bet you have writers everywhere saying yes to the mess–the glorious mess!
Marci – This one was especially fun to write. And the mess–yes, the glorious mess–it is what it is! No apologies (anymore). Thanks for tapping me to do this chain!
Thanks for this post, Anne! I love your description of the messiness of writing…and the need to embrace that messiness. Your current WIP sounds wonderful, too–how interesting to think about what that one and BROTHERHOOD have in common! And thanks again for tagging me. I’ll look forward to reflecting on these questions for next week!
Laurie – Until responding to the questions in this blog chain, it hadn’t occurred to me that BROTHERHOOD and my current WIP had anything in common. This realization is going to help me when I pitch the new novel to my agent and editor! Who knew that a fun little blog chain would help me find some clarity in the mess. I look forward to hearing about your process next week.
Thank you for sharing your process(es).
What really strikes me is how the urge or need to create carries us all on different paths but lands us at the same destination.
Life is so interesting.
Julie – So true. It’s taken me years to understand that we’re born to create. The messiness of my process is akin to finding meaning in chaos. (Haha. I’ve been watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” on TV recently, and despite all of his digs at organized religion, I’ve been thinking spiritual thoughts!)
Glad to hear about your process! I can relate to a messy process. I outlined for my current novel, but I don’t always outline! My process evolves from project to project.
Linda – I am in awe of writers who manage to outline their novels. Of writers who get the big picture early-on. There are times, many times, when I’ve wished that I could envision a complete novel and outline it, start to finish. It makes so much sense! I imagine that with an outline, you don’t have to throw away as much as I throw.
But at least I’ve gotten to a place where I’ve stopped beating myself up over the messiness of my process. Whatever gets each of us to a finished product = success. I like the way Julie put it in her comment — that we’re all on different paths but with the same destination.
I loved hearing about your writing process and definitely get how your two YA projects are similar, despite one being historical fiction and the other contemporary. I think we hone in on the problems we’ve dealt with in our lives and look at them via different angles in our fiction. That has certainly been true for me in the disparate books that I’ve written.
And, girl, you are so modest. Congratulations on the BFYA for Brotherhood! So well deserved and a great way to start what I expect will be a distinguished literary career!
Awww, Lyn. Thank you!
I agree about us honing in on problems we’ve dealt with in our own lives. For years, my writing earned rejection letters. My stories didn’t resonate with others until I dared to dig more deeply into myself.
This is a lovely post. Thank you for sharing your process. I love how you brought acting techniques into your process. As a former theater student, I definitely relate to the process of “getting into character” when I write. 🙂 Thanks for inviting me on the tour.
I did some theater classes and productions when I was in high school, and had no idea that later, those techniques would help me write fiction.
I’m looking forward to your post next week!
Method acting and embracing your messiness. It sounds perfect. And what is more, it works! Just look at Brotherhood. I loved reading this. Thanks so much, Anne.
I’m so glad you got a chance to read BROTHERHOOD! Thank you.
When I was younger, before I’d embraced the messiness of my writing process, I gave up on the possibility of ever becoming a writer. But when I realized that I just couldn’t stop writing, I tried again… and enrolled at VCFA! Writing doesn’t pay a lot of bills, but it keeps me sane. Even when I’m slogging through the hardest parts (which for me are the early stages of drafting a novel — discovering characters and plot), I look forward to getting up in the morning. The first place I go is my writing desk.
Lovely post, Anne! I’m so pleased to have been part of your journey.
Thank you, Uma! I think of you and the VCFA faculty a lot. Enrolling in the MFA program there was the best thing I ever did for myself.