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Posts Tagged ‘writing process’

Things you forget about making a book

Your book was published this week. Something you created made it out into the world, and your creative work with it is finished. (Book promotion is a different story.) There’s nothing more to write for this particular book, which makes you wistful, nostalgic even. Your book was not finished. And now, it is. One book complete, and another (and another) wait to be written. You try to remember what writing this particular book was like, but your memories have already dissipated. You realize how little you remember. You realize how much you’ve already forgotten. This thought stays with you awhile.

There’s so much you forget about making a book. There’s so little you remember.

Perhaps, there’s a reason for this forgetting. Perhaps, if you remembered everything required to write this book, you would run for the hills or the mountains or the forest or the streams instead of writing another book. Perhaps, if you remembered, you wouldn’t write the next book, the next essay, the next poem, the next paragraph, the next line, or the next word. If you remembered what making a book required, maybe you would give up on writing. Maybe you might not want to create anything. But, if you forget, maybe you can write another book because you’ve forgotten the agony of a book’s beginning and the harrowing and continuing doubts about its potential.

Here are the all of the things you forget about making a book once it’s published:

You forget that a book is made word by word, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, and chapter by chapter. You build a book piece by painstaking piece. Only you. It’s yours to build. It’s yours to protect and harbor. It’s yours, it’s yours, it’s yours(more…)

This essay

Sometimes, I make big plans for an essay that I’m writing. This essay becomes THE ESSAY, the important one in which I say all of the things. It emerges as the most important essay I’ve ever written. It comes to define who I am as writer, but also as a person. I start thinking about this essay for days, then weeks, and then a month (or months). I might pitch this oh-so-important essay to an outlet familiar with my work. I might even have a deadline. I tell myself that this essay will be easy to write because it is THE ESSAY. Plus, I already know what I want to write (or at least, I think I’m sure that I know what I want to write).

In my head, this essay begins a life of its own. It becomes groundbreaking and earth-shattering, smart and analytical, lovely and true. Most importantly, it becomes SIGNIFICANT and CRUCIAL. It starts to gain mass before I’ve even put words to the page. Its weight becomes heavy, veering closely to unwieldly. This essay appears more and more significant. (more…)

Motherhood and Creative Work

12279060_1151170324908256_2735112922242816204_nDearest Liana,

I keep looking at this quote from Miranda July on motherhood and creativity. It has made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, and I shared it too. I read this quote 10 days after reading your most recent letter, and I cried in my office while the dogs stared at me and the cat chose to ignore me.

July describes how our culture grants men the freedom to pursue their work, their careers, and their creative projects without much discussion of family obligations. “We give fathers all kinds of permission to focus on their work, to be creatively consumed,” she writes. Mothers, unsurprisingly, are not granted the same privilege. When mothers are creatively consumed, we face cultural pressures about what mothers should and should not do. (Often, these are pressures we’ve internalized and assume are the way things are.)

Creative work, like many other forms of work, comes with a host of gendered expectations, which I’m still learning to navigate.

In October, I did a series of public lectures that kept me away from home for six days. At the end of my last trip, I was riding in a cab on the way to Fargo airport and making small talk with the driver. He was telling me about the money he was saving by living in the nearby Moorhead, MN, where I just lectured. He asked if I traveled much for work, and I admitted that I didn’t. I let it slip that I had two children. He took his eyes off of the road to stare at me and asked increduously, “Who is watching your children?” I explained that their other parent had the situation under control, but he looked skeptical. I kept the conversation going until I arrived at the airport, but I was unnerved by his question. All of a sudden, I felt remarkably guilty about my trip. My kids were at home while I was off on my own. I was living my life without them. My mood soured. I was annoyed at my reaction to his question, but also his assumption that mothers were the sole caretakers of children. The mommy guilt appeared and remained with me. My trip was no longer as enjoyable as it had been. I ate Skittles for lunch in protest.

For mothers who want to pursue creative work (and any other work), July notes, “The guilt is unreal.” (more…)

Making An Essay

I just sent an essay on bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress off to my lovely editors at Chronicle Vitae. This essay was one I had to wrangle because there were so many things that I wanted to say alongside all the things I needed to say. Or maybe, this essay wrangled me because it refused to let me go until I had it in the necessary form for publication. Plus, there was the added pressure that I was writing about the work of bell hooks, who I admire and adore, on teaching, of which I have serious and complicated feelings. hooks is a force to be reckoned with; reckoning takes time. Her writing makes me pause and think about how the world works (and how writing works). There was much, much wrangling. I spent much time.

What I’ve learned as an essayist is that I cannot predict how long an essay will take me to conjure, to think about, and then write. Some essays surprise me by how quick they seem, and others are long, drawn-out affairs, which take months (or occasionally years) to complete. Some essays require my complete attention for days and weeks. Others linger in the back of my mind until I’m ready to write them. They bounce around as I work on other topics. They catch me unaware as I rock my toddler to sleep. They appear when I wake up in the morning or as I pour a cup of coffee. Some linger waiting for me to commit. Other ideas dissipate leaving me with a faint impression that I should write about something. Ideas don’t always become essays, yet the ideas that refuse to go away often do.

The labor of making an essay is solitary and not-quite-visible. I started snapping photos of my process in part to make my efforts visible. Inspired by Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work, I thought it might be cool to show folks a glimpse of what I was writing, editing, or researching for my essays. For me, to show, and for you, to see. For this essay in particular, I’ve been trying to capture each stage. I created photographic evidence, if you will, of what I do, but not all work is visible. I can only document that which materializes. Please keep this in mind. (more…)