Monday, April 28, 2014

Four questions, many answers, lots of links

The quirky and wonderful Magpie has tagged me for a blog tour titled, "My Writing Process". This is not the type of thing I usually do, but hey -- it's worth a try. Maybe I'll learn something. Or perhaps you will.

1. What are you working on?
Way, way too many things. Last week I finished four editing projects that will pay most of this month's bills, and I have two books-in-progress of my own (one fiction, one non). I also write a weekly blog for Guideposts, the quarterly newsletter for the Mood Disorders Support Group, and a monthly direct mail letter. I have contributed to Daily Guideposts annually for the better part of two decades. I write a lot.

2. What makes your work different from others' work in the same genre?
I love to connect disparate ideas. One of my key beliefs about life is that there's always another way to look at it. This gives me the courage to pick up a problem or thought and turn it over and over and peer at it from many angles. I step into it, I step back from it, I walk around it. To me, life is very much like an impressionist painting, and I find that what seems entirely dark and blotchy up close may have context from a distance.

3. Why do you write what you do?
Because it might be helpful (or at least interesting) to someone else. I used to journal regularly, but haven't for 15+ years. I find writing for myself is boring. I have to listen to myself all day long in my head, anyway; it's more productive to think outside myself, to try to move from a specific issue to a meta-problem.

I also think that being transparent about my struggles is sometimes the one way I can bring something good out of what appears to be bad. Parenting is sometimes very hard. Having a child (or children) with a mental illness is awful; having a husband who is clinically depressed is an enormous challenge; being in financial straights for year after year is draining. I'm not the only person who goes through tough stuff, and even if you haven't gone through the exact same things, if my inch of progress translates into a single millimeter of making your life easier, that helps us both.

I also write because I get paid. This may not be a lofty reason, but feeding my children is not a crass goal. They have a way of wanting to eat, every day.

I write the way that I do because it's through wrestling with words that I gain clarity of thought. Seeing words written out makes me weigh them: do they ring true? Are they an accurate picture of what I believe? Can someone who doesn't have the same beliefs still understand what I'm writing about?

4. How does your writing process work?

Since I work on many projects at once, people tend to assume I am a master multitasker. I am not. Multitasking is like letting all my kids talk at once: it's inefficient. What works for me is to be 1000% attentive to one thing at a time. What's unusual (I guess) is that I can handle disparate projects in rapid progression. I am good at working intently for even a 10-minute block of time; much of the thinking and organizing happens when I'm not at the computer. This is partly a matter of temperament, but mostly a matter of self-training. I usually don't have time to be inefficient. I have a lot of back burners.

Most of my writing is non-fiction that ranges from 300-1200 words. Most of it is centered on my own ideas, not facts. This means I have to generate ideas constantly, and distill my thoughts so each piece has no extraneous thoughts in it. 

Many people think that writing is about wordsmithing, but for me the hard work lies in thinking clearly and organizing ideas well. I prioritize flow over phraseology; it used to kill me to have to toss out exquisite lines, until I realized craftsmanship is about the overall message, not individual sentences. 

People occasionally note that I don't provide a blogroll on this site. I actively rotate the sites I follow so I do not live in a bubble of my personal interests. I currently follow Scouting NY (by a guy who scouts movie locations), Mind Hacks (neuroscience), Hack Education (education reform), Katya's Non-Profit Marketing blog (what it says), the British Library's site on medieval manuscriptsPsych Central News and the philosopher/teacher/author Diana Seneschal

Another reason I don't have a blogroll is because I dislike being labelled. I am a practicing Catholic whose three best friends are a liberal Jew, an athiest, and a conservative Protestant. When I write on this blog I want to be able to communicate with any thinking person, not just those who share my faith or political beliefs, or personal interests, or...

As part of this blog tour I'm to tag two other writers. The first person I want you to visit is Elizabeth Duffy, a mother of six who lives in rural Indiana and blogs for Patheos. If you're not Catholic, read her anyway; she's thoughtful and strong and honest about her weaknesses.  

The second person is -- well, I didn't find one. I asked several writers who shied away from wanting to "tag" someone for the next round. Then there are a couple of wonderful writers who either don't have blogs, or have lives that so full right now that I didn't want to ask (Maggie May Etheridge, I loved this poem.)

Perhaps that makes me a dud on the blog tour. But there are many wonderful authors out there, and perhaps you can share some of your favorites with me. That will expand my world. 

Oh -- and go visit Magpie's blog. She tagged me for this shtick. And she's a great human being.



  1. Thanks, love. And fiction? I didn't even know that!

  2. I enjoyed reading this piece; I appreciate what you say about clarity of ideas and transparency of struggle. Also this: "feeding my children is not a crass goal. They have a way of wanting to eat, every day."

    Thank you for the shout-out, too!

  3. I appreciate the bit about being transparent about your struggles. The posts I hesitate to send because they make me feel vulnerable are always the ones that seem to be the most appreciated by readers. That reminds me why I write.

  4. Thank you I'm so glad anyone likes or cares about poetry at all anymore ( who is not a poet ) And I am seriously impressed with your writing productivity. I totally get the burdens you speak of and mental illness changes everything. xo

  5. Your posts inspire me so much, and I can relate on lots of levels. May God bless your work!