Writer Tag and Blog Hop

The last time one of these went around (that I knew about, anyway) I didn’t quite think I was writer enough to participate. So I avoided the whole thing and eventually it went away. I regretted not participating, and letting fear get in the way.

Anyway, I was tagged by Brent van Staalduinen, a writer who has been writing and publishing and shortlisting so much that it would re-ignite my writerly self-doubt again, except for the fact that I’m over that. Today.

Brent also tagged Steph VanderMuelen, writer, creative writing mentor, copy editor, and one of my fellow Story Intensive TAs. Check out her site, because it’s fantabulous and Steph has great things to say about writing and process.

So. The Questions.

1) What am I working on?

Many things, but the big projects are a novel about a marriage (that’s about as specific as I’m willing to get right now, it’s very early) and an autobiographical play about my experiences as a landlord. But I also have some short fiction and a personal essay churning in my brain.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The short answer is that it doesn’t.

The longer answer is that I’m not convinced that being different is necessarily a virtue in writing so I don’t pay attention to being different. Sure, the truly Great Works are both original and good. But what’s wrong with just being good? Why does work always have to be different?

That said, I’ve been writing cross-cultural stories more and more, and one of the things I’ve playing with is to go against the grain in what people expect in these stories, even though I love those stories. No going back to the motherland (so to speak) and learning all the horrible secrets your mother never told you about why she really left and then coming to a new understanding of her and your culture and yourself. (The file name for my novel in progress is Amy-Tan-but-not, though it’s taken a number of twist and turns so who knows what it will be about when it’s done?)

In any case, very little of what I’m currently working on is at a stage where I can analyze it in comparison to other work, which is to say, nothing I’m working on is finished. I’m very wary of comparing my work to other things while I’m still writing it. And stuff I’ve already written that’s out there, well, I’m the last person to be able to look at it critically. I know its secrets too well.

3) Why do I write what I do?

This question implies that I have a choice in this.

This isn’t to say that I’m a helpless slave to a fickle muse. But my writing is very much a reflection of where my head is at, and my head is at its best when I give it free reign. That doesn’t mean that my writing is necessarily a reflection of what is going on in my life right now, though, since sometimes my head gets stuck on something from the past or even something very random like the fate of the Donner Party.

4) How does my writing process work?

I write.

I have never in my life been able to consistently form a good habit.  A bad habit, sure.  Good ones, no.  The moment I’m supposed to do something, I rebel against it.

So my writing process has turned into, write when and how I can.  Sometimes, that’s in the morning, sometimes at night, sometimes in the afternoon. Sometimes by hand, sometimes on my laptop. Sometimes, that’s in a coffee shop, sometimes in my office, sometimes in silence, sometimes with the television on.

There’s a lot of value in consistency in terms of creative practice, but rather than beat myself up for not being consistent, I’d rather just make do. Contrary to typical wisdom, I don’t think you have to write every day–you just need to write enough to make yourself happy.

All that said, when I have a deadline, there is no tool I like better than Write or Die.

And the nominees are…. 

Chris Tarry is a Canadian writer and musician, and it’s totally not fair that he’s amazing in two creative fields while some of us are eking out an existence in just one. Chris’ short story, Here Be Dragons, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his debut short fiction collection, How To Carry Bigfoot Home is forthcoming in March 2015 from Redhen Press.

Sierra Skye Gemma is an award-winning writer and journalist from Vancouver who writing is emotionally honest, funny, powerful, and basically everything great creative non-fiction should be. I’m not the only one who thinks so, since she won the Edna Staebler personal essay competition and a National Magazine Award for best new writer for her essay, The Wrong Way.

I’m not crazy, I’m a writer.

Last night, my play had a public staged reading. People I didn’t know paid money to come and hear my work. They even laughed. It’s a comedy, so that was a relief.

Watching your work being read is slightly surreal. My writing process is often very auditory; sometimes I feel like I am simply transcribing the voices I hear. So when other people embody that and turn this into something other people can hear too… as I said, surreal. It’s not just me anymore.

What’s fascinating is how much evolves when someone else engages the work.

We all know that readers, or in this case the audience, comes in with their own baggage.  Fiction writers can largely pretend that this doesn’t happen, unless they are presented with reviews or reader questions. But playwrights have to confront this reality; the work is not solely yours. It gets filtered through so many other people. Sometimes it’s surprising how different it ends up after the idea has gone on its long transition from writer to audience.

And yet, it’s also surprising that despite these evolutions, how much gets through exactly as it was in my head.

As writers, sometimes we can get obsessive over what the reader thinks, that they didn’t quite engage the work precisely the way we did. We turn into control freaks about it, turning it over in our minds trying to figure out what went wrong. Because we love the way we came into the work–why else write it? And we start to wonder, was it me? Did I not write this right? Do I need to pile in more words so that every reader gets it the way I want it to be? How can I make this so that everyone loves the work and my characters as much as I love them?

That’s where we have to stop.

Sure, it’s awesome when someone connects to your work. But what I see now is that there comes a point where the work is not mine. And it shouldn’t be.

Playwriting, fiction, poetry…. the reader will always bring their own stuff to the work and it will evolve into something else. Our job is not to dictate the reader’s experience, not to force them to accept a singular vision of the world we wrote, not to force them down narrow pathways with our words and hold the leash tight so they can’t go anywhere with it. We simply create the world and leave the rest to them.  No one loves a regimented march the way they love a place that got to know and explore on their own terms.

As writers, we craft the cup. The reader pours in the liquid. As it always was, as it always should be.

I’ll drink to that.