I write because if I don't, I'm like a meth addict without meth.
I cannot sleep or think about other things except the story I'm thinking of. I become completely obsessed with the fact I'm not writing, and I can't think about anything else until I'm back at my desk with another 3,000 words written, story complete. Putting words to paper gives my life a symmetry that otherwise it does not have.
Therefore I pursue my madness gladly.
Good stories are like perfected algorithms: specific sets of words, stacked like waiting arrows. Shot into lines, paragraphs, pages, endings. As I write, I am an archer, aiming for the story I predict.
Sometimes my arrows fall, and I must collect them in the dark. That darkness can be terrifying, but it always leads me to where the story was supposed to go.
In order for a story to come to life, to wield this kind of power, it requires everything from me. But once the story is done, I am released, at least for few hours, an afternoon, a day.
This temporary liberation is not truly free, for my mind is already working on the next story, the next chapter, without my awareness. Wherever I am, it watches, taking notes, pulling everything apart. Simplifying until it has the details it will weave into the next story.
A single jade green grape resting on gravel.
The pink curl of a chicken's beak as it breathes it last breath.
An untied shoelace, orange and dragging.
A woman's left hand that moves like a jellyfish as she talks, exuberant.
And then my writing addiction calls me back: the words want me, and I want them. We are addicted to each other. A new story calls to us both.
Recently a writer/blogger friend of mine, Ellen Barone, of asked me to take part in a Blog Hop about my writing life. The questions and answers are below the photo slideshow below.
Slideshow? Yes. As I was thinking about writing this post, I realized that a slideshow of doors from my recent Moroccan journey might give you the sense of what my writing process is like. There are a series of doors that my words must pass through to become joined together. Some of these doors open easily, others remain closed. But my words, my arrows, must shoot through the wood, the metal, the gate, the lock.
So, dear reader, a few doors for you:
I wanted to ask a few other writers/bloggers about their writing process, too. I've included their profiles and a link to their sites after my own answers. Since Ellen Barone is a memoir/travelogue writer/blogger(and so am I!), I've chosen three women writers who are not only writing in the same genres, but have written pieces that have moved me: Annemarie Dooling, Kimberly Lovato, and Mara Gorman.
What am I working on/writing?
The most important writing I do is for myself, and I always put that first. I keep two daily journals, a habit that I started when I was about twelve years old. One journal is of the usual variety: meandering thoughts about experiences and ideas. The second journal is really where I pay attention to detail, and it is entirely made up of character sketches of people I meet or see on the street, café, and so forth.
For this website, I try to write one or two times a week: short and longer length pieces.
I'm working on a dozen + stories for publication, primarily about place, a handful of which are heavily memoir. I'm concentrating on writing for literary magazines and anthologies right now, but a few pieces are set aside for magazines and online sites.
My largest project is my book, which is about living in an indigenous isolated community of Ngabe people on a mountaintop in Northwestern Panama for many months. It is a story of finding my own strength and liberating myself from a difficult past. Guided by the Ngabe people and my own experiences, I both lose and recreate myself.
I also am working another book, which is about spending a year (and more!) in Calcutta, India, working at a Mother Teresa orphanage. It is about the experience of falling in love, both with a small boy whom I tried unsuccessfully to adopt, and my love affair with the city itself.
How does my work/writing differ from others in it's genre?
That's a difficult question, as I cross back and forth between two genres: I am both a memoirist and a travel writer. At the moment, I am mostly cast in the travel genre, but think this genre has it's share of difficulties, in that (some) people writing travel write "travel-lite" pieces: Top Five, etcetera. I do think that the genre is being restructured right now, and that there is a huge interest from all avenues--editors, writers, and readers--to focus more on long form pieces that are deeper and literary. Most of my writing heroes/heroines, whom I model my own work on, are travel writers of the old school variety, and so my goal is to write books and stories that are worthy of being included with their work. (A lofty goal, I know.)
My writing differs from other memoirists because I write about place and my relationship to place more than most people in that genre do. Places seem to inspire revelations in me: something about the experiences I have connects me to my own life story, and most of my stories come out of those epiphanies.
Within the genre of travel writing, what makes my writing different are a few things. First, I consider myself an explorer, not a traveler: I take risks--sometimes big ones--because I feel that I have to do that to understand a place. Second, I don't have much interest in doing the usual things everyone seems to do. I tend to choose places that are off the map and of little "tourist" interest--or if they are popular places to go, I work hard to see it differently. A good example of this in action is my Oranges and Roses story, which is about Paris, but not the Paris you're thinking of. Third, I don't write stories to try to convince you to go anywhere. I write stories to find commonality, the universal, to help people see themselves in cultures other than their own, and I try to use my own vulnerability to do that. Last, women are still not where they should and could be in the travel genre--or in the world at large. This motivates me to write stories which inspire women to explore outside of the constraints that they find at home and abroad. To go where women don't go, do it solo, and enjoy it.
Why do I write the way I do?
I'm dyslexic, so my writing process comes from having that disability/ability. Being dyslexic pushes me to work harder and to come up with solutions to problems that most writers don't have. I usually visualize--almost in 3-D--most or all of a piece before I actually write it down. It comes out fully formed, a living thing, a copy of what I see.
Journaling has helped me a great deal with dyslexia, and it also has helped me to maintain a practice of paying attention to details, even when I'm doing something else. For example, (although most people don't realize it) I have terrible social anxiety, and so while I'm nervously chattering away, I'm also distracting myself by taking note of all the small things in the room. Details I make mental notes on often show up in my journals later the same day, and slither into the stories I write if they made a big impression.
How does my writing process work?
Sit at desk. Write. That's it.
I divide my writing--and therefore, processes-- into two categories:
One, the writing I do to maintain my sanity and perspective (journals), which also have the delightful by-product of giving me lots of interesting fodder for future work. For this category, I write 3,000 words a day, or more, everyday. When I travel, I usually take notes on everything, up to twenty pages per day. At home, I use any in between moments to meet that word goal: my break time at work, mornings at a my favorite café, evenings after I get home. I don't force myself to do it, I just have the habit of doing it. It took time to turn it into a daily practice and I had to have patience with myself and let go of doing it "perfectly".
Two, the writing I do for others (website, stories for publication, book). For this second category, I write another 3,000 words per day, or more, everyday. When traveling, I will often complete a story every few days. While at home, I work on stories and my book every weekend, for two or three days in a row. I don't do rewrites: any edits I do are about making things cleaner, succinct, spared down. If I have questions about how to write something, I usually will ask one of my mentors for help or clarity. I take walking breaks often because walking clears my mind and leaves me free to write without distractions. (Note: I used to reward myself with jellybeans, but now I reward myself with a walk.)
If what I write moves me when I read it aloud, I'm done. Then it's time to write the next story.
Now it's time for the Blog Hop. Four women I admire, who combine travel with memoir and do it differently: raw, brash, sophisticated, lean, contemplative, bubbly, ironic. Each one has written a piece in the past few months that has opened a door in my own work. Thank you to each of them. Go, girl. (And readers, leave a "like" at the end of the post, because that makes us all feel wonderful!)
Visit each blog to read about how these women write.
Visit Ellen at her blog The Internal Traveler to read her piece on her writing life.
Consumer travel journalist, Ellen Barone, has been creating and curating intriguing, trustworthy and engaging travel inspiration and advice since 1998. With her signature blend of narrative/service journalism, editorial photography/digital technology, Ellen is a notable example of a photojournalist fusing blogging, multimedia storytelling and social media to engage with a diverse and active following. She's currently working on a travel/memoir book, and her Travel Updates features blogs on every travel topic imaginable.
Who is Annemarie Dooling?
An Italian girl from Brooklyn, first college graduate of her family, orphaned at age 20. She's climbed a mountain in Africa to meet gorillas, toured World Cup stadiums overhead by helicopter and shared shoe recommendations with Nancy Pelosi.
She's spoken to audiences at NYU, Internet Week, Book Expo America and TBEX, and contributed to Marie Claire, National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel Blog, AOL Travel, Huffington Post and Time Out.
Visit Mara at her blog, The Mother of All Trips
Mara Gorman doesn’t know when or where the travel bug bit her: Italy when she was nine? Paris when she was 19? India when she was 29? But having children has done nothing to cure her of it. She’s been traveling with her two sons for over a decade, including a 13-month adventure across 6 states, 3 countries, and 2 continents with her toddler. An award-winning freelance writer, she chronicles her family’s adventures on her website and offers inspiration, stories, and advice in The Family Traveler's Handbook. My favorite piece: What My Mother Taught Me About Travel.
Read Kimberly's piece on her writing life on her blog, Fluent in Fabulous
Kimberly Lovato is a freelance writer and author specializing in lifestyle and travel, with a heaping spoonful of culinary curiosity on the side. Her articles and stories have appeared in various print and online media from around the world, including Travel and Leisure Magazine, American Way, and BBC Travel. Her love of France—the language, the culture, the people, and of course the food—led her to write a culinary travel book, Walnut Wine & Truffle Groves, about the people and the cuisine of the Dordogne region. The book has been honored with several awards including the coveted Lowell Thomas Award given by the Society of American Travel Writers.
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