writing process

Laressa Dickey asked me to be part of the ‘My Writing Process Blog Tour‘ that’s going around. I have a weak immune system and am thus susceptible to things like this. Here we go.

The Blog Tour demands to know what I’m working on. I demur in the way I usually do when people ask this question (they’re just being polite/they don’t really want to know/what you’re working on is way too weird/try not to scare people off/don’t mention theory, whatever you do). But the Blog Tour insists. Look at all the people who’ve already answered, it says. No one is even going to read your blog. No one will have to know. I admit this is true. No one really reads my blog, except maybe my friend Lisa, her dad, and a couple of hackers who are wondering whether this site is prime real estate or not. (It isn’t. Sorry, guys. Check down the street. The copper’s all gone, here.) Okay. So no getting out of it. I’m working on a novel that pivots on the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan; a collection of essays that seems like it will in fact be two collections of essays, one about art/art history and one about living in the UK; a collection of long poems with long long titles; and some random things that might eventually be another collection of shorter poems. I’ve also got some essays about dance, Italy, and Portugal going, but who knows what those are going to be. Are you happy, now, Blog Tour?

No. The Blog Tour is not happy. It’s dissatisfied. That’s not nearly answer enough. It wants to pry into my deepest process secrets. It wants to make me think strategically about my work. Ugh. God. Okay. How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?, the Blog Tour asks. I have no idea, I think. My work is derivative, frivolous, and dull. Maybe that’s how it differs. But the Blog Tour prods me. Come on, it says. Be real about this. Thanks for believing in me, Blog Tour. But the Blog Tour isn’t about belief. It just wants answers. All right, I say. My work is not that different from other works in its genres. Constrained roughly by form and language, there’s bound to be overlap. I use sentences. So many people do, these daysBut maybe it’s the way that my brain refuses to do one thing at a time (meaning my sentences do imagistic things, static things, when they maybe ‘should’ be doing linear or plot-driven things; do ‘theoretical’ things when they maybe ‘should’ be doing ‘poetic’ things) that makes my work different. It’s not a new thing and I’m in no way alone in doing this—writers I adore do it in ways I look up to and love: W.G. Sebald and Juliana Spahr and Joshua Clover and Anne Boyer and W.J.T. Mitchell and Maggie Nelson—but within genre it’s maybe a commitment to/inability to avoid distraction/boundary-crossing/bastardy that marks my work.

Oh, okay, the Blog Tour sighs. I can tell it’d rather have me be unequivocal. (Not my strength. Is it a nice day? Sure, I enjoy the fresh air and blue skies, but I can see how an allergy-sufferer might be having a hard time. Etc.) Nope. I’m ambivalent. Born that way. Maybe. But the Blog Tour presses on: Why do you write what you do?, it asks. For a moment, I want to say I was born that way, too, but is that the case? No. I write what I do because I grew up in he house I grew up in, with the people who lived there. I write what I do because I realized about ten years ago that it’s impossible to make a scale model of everything, but I wanted to try. I write what I do because I’m afraid of death, my own and others’, and I’m sticking my chin out at it. I write what I do because I want to remember and I want to figure things out. I write things that become ‘fiction’ (?) when I feel that feeling, and things that are ‘poems’ (?) when that texture happens, and things that are ‘essays’ (?) when they have to be essays. The writing makes demands and I try to respond, and all the while I’m aware of how easily the things, places, people I love and am deeply attached to could disappear, of the tragedy that attachment is, and of my desire for those things, places, and people to live a little bit of forever, at least the forever of my life. So I pay attention to them and I write them down. I write what I do because I want things I feel are unseen or unattended-to to be seen and attended to. I write what I do in the interest of a more-than-bare life, not for me but for everyone I can. I write what I do as a mark of affection. I write what I do to speak with the people who aren’t around or aren’t near enough to speak with in the flesh.

The Blog Tour is filing its nails. It’s a little bored. All that sounds a bit, how do you say, flouncy, it says. It would rather I committed to something more concrete. I can tell it’s frustrated, under its façade of nonplussed nail care. One more question, it says. How does your writing process work? I can feel the disappointment oozing into the room as the Blog Tour waits for my answer. Ugh, I think. How does my writing process work? I sit down at the table with my notebook and computer at it and stare out the window for a while. Some birds and shadows move. There’s noise, some of which I can identify, some of which I can’t. I make some idle marks on the page of my notebook, vertical or horizontal lines. I feel a little dull. My right hand moves on the trackpad of my laptop and I redirect it from the Chrome icon to the OpenOffice one. Eh. The blank document makes me feel a little sick. I pick up the book lying on my table and read a little bit, taking notes in my notebook as I do. As always, I want to avoid the thing I actually enjoy doing (and enjoy even more having done). I avoid it by looking, reading, walking, doing chores, talking to friends, listening to things happening. Ineluctably this leads to me doing the thing (writing). I am in a position right now where I can, if I can get myself to do it, write every weekday for at least a few hours in the morning. If I can get myself in the chair, those hours translate into words for the novel, an essay, or an article. Poems rarely happen that way for me (scheduled). They happen after a buildup of time/compressed desire/feeling. There is a very specific texture of time that leads to poems for me at this point, and unless I am working on a time-specific thing (poem happening over a course of X hours; poems happening daily for a set number of days) I rarely have a schedule with them. I’ve found that they will come as and when they do, and as long as I’m reading and writing other things, I’m limber enough to receive them when they get here. The prose things take more discipline, because they are generally made of more words and therefore require longer periods of belief that they will function/longer times immersed in the writing. With poems, I don’t do much revision these days—not the way I used to (draft after saved draft). If they aren’t working, I leave them and do something else. They will come or they won’t, eventually. I revise right over them and lose whatever there used to be. No backward glances. Prose I revise much more and much differently, and I know this is because the first long prose work I wrote was my doctoral dissertation, which trained me very differently from my training to make poems. I enjoy revising prose very much, maybe because I forget what I have written and so reading it again I’m reimmersed in ideas I was/am excited about.

I will pass this on to Justin Daugherty and Rachelle Cruz and Neele Dellschaft, if they are willing. Which I can’t guarantee. But you should check out their writing anyway.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for overcoming your ambivalence and sharing so much about the dynamics and purposes which underlie your writing. You confirmed why I appreciate and respect, nay admire, your work so much. The fact that you did it tongue in cheek made it more enjoyable, to boot!

  2. Oh auntay, you know I read this too! I’ll try and write something but, seeing that there’s no deadline attached who knows when that will be! But I’ll try try.

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