My Writing Process

Process is one of my favorite aspects of writing. I find fascinating how other writers work; not where or how often they write but how they approach a project, what metaphors guide them through the process, and the twisted road they take from idea to published piece. For this reason, I have enjoyed the My Writing Process Blog Tour and the insight shared by various writers. I was thrilled when my friend and fellow Spalding alum Dania Rajendra asked me to participate. Dania is a generous reader and fantastic creative nonfiction writer who has recently begun publishing poetry. Her poem, "New Year's Instructions," appeared in Alimentum in April (scroll down to the third poet listed). You can also check out what Dania has to say about process on her blog:

What Am I Working On?

I have recently returned to writing after time away to welcome and care for my second daughter. Motherhood has reshaped my life and continues to impact my work, providing a new frame for former life experiences. But the larger impact is that the challenge of motherhood compels me to speak of it, to piece together the naturally fragmented experience of parenting for myself and for the benefit of other parents.

Currently, I am revising older essays that examine the formation of personal and family identity. I am also planning my next project, a chapbook-length manuscript of brief essays that map my wide range of feelings toward motherhood. The essays will probe the most uncomfortable emotions—fear, ambivalence, anger—and examine how personal and cultural expectations and silence can hinder growth as a parent. My goal is to provide a realistic map of the often idealized landscape of motherhood by charting my own path.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Creative nonfiction encompasses a wide range of writing, including narrative journalism, memoir, and essay. I enjoy reading these forms and seeing how they overlap. But as a writer, I consider myself an essayist operating somewhere between the reflective ramble of the personal essay and the carefully structured and metaphor-driven lyric essay. I write in search of meaning, but I find the mosaic quality of lyric essay to be the best expression of my mind's work.

Why do I write what I do?

I mine my obsessions--the things to which I return over and over again. In my case, that is music, my grandparents, grief, kitsch, and craft. My life has had many iterations of broken family; in my writing I am always working to piece what has been rent into a new, more meaningful whole. Fiber craft--knitting, sewing, quilting--often appears in my work, operating as a metaphor for the torn fabric of family and the patchwork method used to make sense of life.

As mentioned above, I am also compelled by my challenging relationship with motherhood to write truthfully about the experience. I intend to share my trials and mistakes so that other parents might recognize their experience and feel more compassion for themselves. In the process, I hope to challenge societal notions and expectations of parenthood.

How does my writing process work?

I begin most often with a resonant topic, scene, or object (or combination thereof) on which I ruminate and/or free write until I can write something that feels like a comprehensive draft. I put away the draft for a few days or weeks. When I return to the work, I hope to see connections through repeated language or images, enough to trust that there is substance beneath the surface.

At this stage, what I lack is structure. When I start to get lost in the dead ends and divergences of my thoughts on paper, I grab a pair of scissors from my desk and cut the draft into sections which I lay on the floor. I move around the pieces according to intuition, all the while struggling through doubt and dissent, until I can sense the flow of my ideas and feel the connective threads pull together the pieces into something organic. Then I work through several rounds of revision.

One of the most important parts of my process and the biggest lesson I learned in graduate school is allowing other readers to read and respond to my work in draft form. A writer spends enough time alone, banging her fingers on the keyboard and her head against the wall. Careful readers point to unintended connections or reinforce the validity of carefully crafted ones. They provide a sounding board, empathy, and encouragement for what is always a difficult process.

Once the structure is solid, I revise several times to reinforce the connections and make sure that every word contributes. I read aloud after each revision to find the spots that lack clarity and flow. When I can read through without pause, I consider the essay ready for submission. A piece of work is never done, never perfect; for me, it needs only to be ready.

And now to pass the baton to two other Seattle writers whose work I admire. Anne Liu Kellor will post next Tuesday, May 27th. Isla McKetta posted her thoughts yesterday.

Anne Liu Kellor is a Seattle-based writer and teacher who has received support from Hedgebrook, 4Culture, Hypatia-in-the-Woods, and Jack Straw. Her essays have appeared in publications such as the anthology Waking Up American: Coming of Age Biculturally (Seal Press), The Los Angeles Review, and on her blog: Anne has taught writing workshops since 2006 to people of all ages and levels. Her memoir, SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL, follows her quest for language, love, and belonging as she migrates between China and America during her twenties, and is now in search of a publisher.

Isla McKetta is the author of Polska, 1994 and co-author of Clear Out the Static in Your Attic: A Writer’s Guide for Turning Artifacts into Art. She reviews books at A Geography of Reading. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Goddard College.