I want to thank Martha Conway for inviting me to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. Martha is the author of 12 Bliss Street, which was nominated for an Edgar Award, and the forthcoming Thieving Forest. Not only is she a rare talent, Martha’s also gracious in the way she offers guidance to writers. Check out her work at http://www.marthaconway.com/.
I’ll be frank: Blogging about my writing process makes me sound like an authority, which I’m not. Having transitioned from a career in journalism to fiction writing, I’m working every day to craft narratives that aren’t based in fact. I’m trying to let stories unfold organically, teasing them out and burying their leads in order to heighten dramatic tension. In other words, I’m still learning a lot. Some days, I feel like I’ve got this fiction craft thing nailed. I think, Yes! This is what I was meant to do. Other days, I feel like a hack who’s tilting at windmills. Self-soothing with chocolate usually follows. Maybe you’re like me, and on most days you find yourself somewhere between those two extremes. My point is, I’m no expert. That said, I think there’s comfort, at the very least some camaraderie, in hearing about someone’s writing process—even if some days involve more chocolate than they should.
What am I working on?
I’ve recently completed a second manuscript. The story follows a former literary phenom as she joins her successful and complicated family on a vacation in East Hampton. The protagonist’s life has careened, and during her stay her problems grow hairier. Her only hope in overcoming them is by first facing longstanding issues with her family.
After completing this manuscript, I wanted to change up my writing a bit so I’m now working on a short story and some creative nonfiction. In addition, I’m taking two workshops this summer that focus on the craft of fiction writing. So far, the experience has been incredible. If you’re in the New York City area and looking for a writing workshop, I cannot recommend The Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop enough. Next month, I’ll be attending Stony Brook’s Southampton Writers Conference.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work leans toward literary fiction, but the protagonist is a woman, so I guess that means it has a foot in the women’s fiction camp too. At the end of the day, a good story is a good story—I’m not sure genre matters.
Why do I write what I do?
I gravitate to stories involving thorny family dynamics and individual shortcomings. More than anything else, I love deeply flawed characters who’ve been bruised by disappointments and are trying, however imperfectly, to make their way through life. I find these types of struggles interesting and relatable, probably because we’ve all been there at one time or another.
How does your writing process work?
Again, I feel a little silly speaking with any authority here, but my day typically starts early—somewhere around 5:30 a.m., when the pup wakes me up. After I walk and feed him, I caffeinate myself while reading The New York Times and any other news I’m feeling. For whatever reason I have to start my day with news; if I don’t, I’m lost. It’s the journalist in me, but also I like keeping up on what former colleagues are writing. After my news binge, I’ll write. Some people are night writers, but I work best in the morning. The amount I write is always different. Sometimes it’s a few hours, other times it’s longer. I’m a big believer in coffee, Bikram yoga, running and laundry to help the words along. Don’t get me wrong, I can procrastinate with the best of them, and some days I’m not very productive—that’s just how it goes. But I’m also a big believer in sitting down and writing. When you’re a journalist on deadline, you don’t get to decide if you feel like writing the story. I think the same goes for fiction. That said, I got a great piece of advice from another writer who said, don’t be afraid to not write on occasion. Sometimes, she said, ideas and words need to percolate in the back of your mind. I think she’s right.
In terms of how I try to pull a story together, I’m a big fan of outlines. For this latest manuscript, I thought about the story for a while, wrote character sketches and did a rough outline for how the story would progress. After I had a good feel for where I was going, then I started to write. Some people write endings first, but I write linearly. Of course, there are times when I can’t write well enough to get from point A to point B, so I write lousy, banging out words to bridge scenes. Later, when I’ve figured out what’s needed in those weak spots, I’ll go back and rewrite them. Rewriting is the key to writing, I’ve heard people say—and I couldn’t agree more. Happy rewriting!
Next up on the Writing Process Blog Tour, which will post June 30th, I’m thrilled to introduce two talented writers:
Kristin Celms has been writing since she was 10 years old, but in the last five years, at about the time she moved to Switzerland, she decided to take writing seriously. A lover of women’s fiction and mysteries, she has recently finished revising a novel inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Kristin has now moved back to Minnesota and is plotting her next novel. Visit her at kristincelms.wordpress.com or on twitter.
Andrea Petersen is an aspiring writer with dreams of becoming published someday soon. Her novels are meant to touch the heart of her readers, making them dig deeper into themselves and the world around them. Think different and the world looks different. Her three completed novels all fall into the category of women’s fiction.
Andrea lives in the mountains of Colorado with her family. She’s passionate about the rescued horses she works with at the Swan Mountain Outreach Center. Visit her at http://petersenandrea.wordpress.com/ or on twitter.