I felt honored to have been asked by the amazing Diane Lefer to be a part of the #MyWritingProcess blog tour. This blog tour connects authors all over the globe. The intent is to share blogs and the writing life with others. For me, it unifies writers. I know I’ve been inspired and motivated by the blogs I’ve read thus far.
If you’ve met Diane, you know she’s a brilliant, passionate, and generous person, who inspires and delights with her work. If you don’t know her work, check her out at http://dianelefer.wordpress.com/. Diane is one of the few who has read my forthcoming memoir, Have a Little Piece of Me, from beginning to end. She has been instrumental in my development as a writer. I heard her constant, “You can do it,” and “Your story is important,” during difficult writing days. Be sure to check out her books, Fiery Alphabet, Nobody Wakes Up Pretty, and The Blessing Next to the Wound.
Now for the questions:
What are you working on?
I’m working on several things as we speak. I’m beginning a new memoir about my stint in the Army. This memoir is focused on my process of maneuvering through military hardships, while coming to terms with hardships I faced throughout my childhood.
I’m also working on revising a few of the essays I originally wrote for Have a Little Piece of Me. Since they now don’t work in the larger piece, I’m trying to find them homes in journals. My most pressing project is completing my initial revisions for Have a Little Piece of Me, so I can get them to my editor before my March 30 deadline. Much of the hardest work has taken place off the page. Having to revisit past traumas and immerse myself in the pain and happiness associated with those experiences has proven to be a difficult task. It is also empowering! I’m one tough chick! I’ve been working to remember that in all I do.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I think my work differs from others in the genre of creative nonfiction because I’m not a celebrity. If you go to iBooks or the Kindle store, you’ll see most memoirs are written by people in the media or people who have gone viral because they said or did something so controversial the powers that be decided they should write a book. (Think Brandi Glanville, LaLa Anthony, and Robert Gates.) Reality stars and politicians (That might be redundant.) seem to have a monopoly on memoirs right now. Those are the ones we hear people talking about. That had really been a source of confusion for me. On the one hand, I wanted to get my book out there, but I didn’t want to put myself out there in a way that was disingenuous. I hoped my experiences and my writing would be “celebrity” enough for me to get a chance. There are some amazing memoirs out there now that do just that. I adore The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and I’m really enjoying The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. I think my work is different from theirs because of the grit. The essays in Have a Little Piece of Me are not pretty and some are akin to a car wreck, where you know ugliness is there, but you can’t look away. (Yes! That’s cliche, but this is a first draft.) Some of the content in my work will be difficult to digest, but it is my life and I’m hoping my grit can show readers how to free themselves from theirs.
Why do you write what you do?
I write what I write in order to get it out of me. I write in order to make sense of the tragedies that have occurred in my life. I write in order to give past trauma’s purpose. If my words help someone find his/her way, then those negative spirits function as a tool of enlightenment and not as a tool of horror. I write what I do because my experiences demand it. Once that’s done, I’ll be writing something else.
How does your writing process work?
My writing process isn’t really a process. I try to write every day, but with teaching and a family, I sometimes fail. I try to write in the same place, but there are times the words rush and I’m writing on my hands, on envelopes, and on my phone. I do have a few tools I must have in order to write. I can’t live without Scrivener. This program is every writer’s dream. Scrivener helps organize chapters, thoughts, and projects seamlessly. It works across platforms and helps organize drafts from beginning (notecards on a corkboard) to end (eBook version of manuscript). Here’s a snapshot of my current project in Scrivener. Big difference from Word! In Scrivener, I can move full chapters and see two different drafts of my work at the same time. They have so many helpful youtube videos and you can compile your project into a Word or eBook file if you desire. When I first started getting serious about my manuscript, I converted it into an eBook and read it on my iPad. That was the motivation I needed. It helped me believe people would one day be purchasing my book and reading it on their iPads and Kindles if I kept up the work. Sometimes, that push is more than enough.
If I have to write longhand, and I often do in order to work through problems with the manuscript, I must have a Pilot ink pen. There’s something about the way that the pin slides across the page. I often close my eyes and write, allowing the words to leave me without being seen. I’ve worked through several problematic sections doing that.
If I’m doing some serious writing, not just line editing, but immersing myself in my experiences, I generally do that in my basement office my hubby built for me. It has two desks, my comfy chair, all of the books I love, and my fish tank. When I’m in there, I’m cut off from the rest of the world. I can watch my fish and they soothe me. They remind me I’m in a safe place and I just have to keep writing, keep working, (channeling Dorey here) and I will eventually get where I need to be. Sometimes, I go there just to be quiet. The quiet, I believe, is as much of my writing process as the writing itself.
I often listen to music while I write. Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear is haunting. Whenever I listen to him, the words flow. I also love Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged. There’s so much wisdom in that CD. It teaches me to write without concern for reception. When I need to get hype, I put on Lecrae or Dereck Minor. Such inspirational gospel rap and they go hard on those lyrics! They make me want to go hard on my writing. Here’s a link to a free copy of Lecrae’s Church Clothes 2: http://www.datpiff.com/Lecrae-Church-Clothes-2-mixtape.544619.html. Download and enjoy!
When I’m writing a difficult scene, I make sure to have my husband, Chico, close by. He gives the best hugs and he constantly reminds me I don’t have to fight anymore. This is necessary, especially when I’m immersing myself in parts of my history.
When I write, I don’t wait for the inspiration to strike. I try daily to latch onto my experiences and wrestle them onto the page. Sometimes they win and I leave with nothing, but sometimes I win . . . and (shameless plug) I’m hoping you’ll see that winning when you read my new book, published by Etruscan Press, forthcoming Fall 2015 :0)!
Below are the folk who will now be embarking on this #MyWritingProcess blog tour journey. Can’t wait to see what wonderful words they’ll be blessing you all with!
Suzanne Farrell Smith’s essays, memoir, and stories have been widely published in literary and academic journals, including the Kenyon Review, the Writer’s Chronicle, Post Road, PANK, the Monarch Review, and the English Record. She has been teaching for fifteen years, most recently as a college writing instructor. Teaching allows her to remain a student of writing for life. Suzanne lives with her husband and son at the foot of the United Nations in Midtown Manhattan.
That’s Suzanne’s formal bio, but I have to add she’s such a generous, gentle, beautiful spirit, who can really get her dance on! I met Suzanne at Vermont College of Fine Arts and she, alongside Mayumi Poe (Isn’t that the coolest name?) and Tony Luebbermann planned our graduation party. With so much work to be done before graduation, she and her comrades selflessly gave their time and ensured our VCFA graduation was one to remember for the ages. I’m still doing the Cupid Shuffle now because of her! She’s also a dang good writer! Check out her words! I know you’ll agree.
Suzanne blogs at: suzannefarrellsmith.wordpress.com
Patrice Gaines has written two books about her journey—the autobiographical Laughing In The Dark: From Colored Girl to Woman of Color— A Journey from Prison to Power; and the self-help Moments of Grace—Meeting the Challenge to Change. She has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show and was featured on a segment of NBC Dateline.
Her articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Essence, the New York Times Magazine and BlackAmericaweb.com. She has been a commentator on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Blues and Notes.” She is a freelance writer, teacher, coach to new writers and a motivational speaker. She tells her story at colleges, conferences, prisons and drug rehabilitation programs around the country. She is a “justice reform activist,” who encourages discussions on forgiveness in her lectures and coaxes people to redefine “justice.” Her goal is to drastically change the U.S. judicial system and prison industry
She is also devoted to empowering women, especially those who have been incarcerated. To that end, she and longtime friend Gaile Dry-Burton co-founded The Brown Angel Center in Charlotte, N.C. They currently run a monthly workshop for women at the Charlotte Mecklenburg County Jail but plan to create other programs aimed at assisting these women to become mentally, spiritually and financially healthy.
Now for the informal bio! Patrice is fire . . . She knows how to get those good words out of writers. I met her at the Hurston-Wright Writers Retreat held at Howard University. She challenged me, encouraged me, and later mentored me as I worked on Have a Little Piece of Me. Without her knowledge and strong, but gentle guidance, I would not be the writer I am today. Plus, she’s an amazing writer. She goes for the gut. Check her out here: http://www.patricegaines.com/blog/. I trust you’ll see what I see.
Jennifer Haugen Koski is the next women with words. Jennifer Koski writes a weekly newspaper column, “Jen’s World” for the Rochester, Minn. Post-Bulletin—where her goal is to, always, write the raw truth, whether that’s about love, loss, parenting, failings, successes, or the amount of dog hair accumulating in her foyer. She’s also the associate editor of Rochester Magazine, where she writes a monthly column called “My First Time,” for which she’s experienced countless adventures (windsurfing! back-up singing! aerial yoga!) all in the name of journalism. As time permits, she continues to work on her essay collection (titled “Somebody I Used to Know”) and teach memoir-writing classes. She lives in Rochester, Minn. with her funny husband, two handsome sons, sweet dog, and a cat who comes into the house to sleep during the day.
Jennifer’s writing is song. I met her my first semester at VCFA and I still remember that beautiful essay she wrote about her grandfather. She’s been a supportive reader and writer since we first met at VCFA! How many people do you know who will critique an entire story for you and not demand that you critique one of theirs? That’s Jennifer, giving herself to the art for the love of it!