My Writing Process Blog Tour
I can't thank Beth Gilstrap enough for sending this invitation my way. She's an extremely talented writer ("A Girl and a Civil War Dress" is so moving and beautifully written/spaced), and her Twitter feed has pointed me to other great writers and literary organizations. She's working on a book, and I can't wait until it's ready to be put out into the world.
What Are You Working On?
Right now, as in this week, I'm editing an old story that I've had in my files for over a year. It's a weird little story about a second (and last) date and a partner's confession to a strange fetish. In the long run, I'm working on a novel for my Master's thesis. It's still in the planning stages (He's thinking about writing a novel? Roll your eyes...now!). It's a dark family drama about fractured identities with a father's evolving obsession with various forms of reality TV and social media outlets. Once that's done, I plan to turn my attention to a short story collection. It wasn't until recently that I noticed slight common threads in some of my published fiction, and reflecting on the latest collections by Leesa Cross-Smith (Every Kiss a War) and Aaron Burch (Backswing), I'm eager to see if I can eventually produce a collection that, upon reading, has a collective meaning. That might sound like a stretch, but really, my favorite story collections leave me with a feeling that is a sum of the individual stories, even if the stories aren't explicitly related.
How Does Your Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?
Right now, that's a complicated question. With maybe one or two exceptions, I don't write fiction that adheres to a genre (I refer to genre as most would assume--sci-fi, mystery, etc.). Then again, while literary fiction is a genre, it's far too vague for me. And some of my latest pieces are experimental, for lack of a better word. I don't think my fiction is unique in the sense of doing things that nobody else is doing. I've had a long, seething hatred for the advice "write what you know." I've always worried it could limit writers, especially young or beginning ones, from taking a larger worldview into account. I have projects that try to take points of view into account that I wouldn't know firsthand. Writing from the point of view of a gay person, a woman, or someone of a different cultural background than myself is risky, but sometimes I try to imagine myself in those shoes and what it's like. Of course, a female writer is going to have more to say about her experience than me imagining a woman's point of view. But I like it, because instead of assuming that I have all the answers, thinking in different ways allows me to consider multiple avenues for my work. Getting back to "write what you know," I've now taken that in my own way. I've gone through my experiences in life, some of them painful, and tried to write work that uses these experiences as a foundation. Therefore, nothing is so much "veiled autobiography" as it is taking a singular moment or thought and seeing the unexpected places it can do within fiction. None of this is edgy or unique, but for the sake of this question, this is how my process works. Sometimes, that is.
Why Do You Write What You Do?
During my English major undergrad years (I graduated in 2006), I was in love with the idea of being a writer. I loved the idea of seeing my name in print, I loved drinking multiple cups of coffee in cafes with a notebook at hand. I cranked out tons of 2-3 page stories with no idea about editing or craft. I thought the mere act of creation was enough. It was because of those early years that I still have trouble calling myself a writer, and I sometimes become uncomfortable if someone introduces me as a writer. Sometimes, I feel like an impostor, like I'm not an artist working on his craft, but still that weird 22 year-old who wanted to be a writer without having to put in the serious work, hours, and editing that goes along with it.
I was absolutely slaughtered in undergraduate workshops. During my first workshop, my professor (Rone Shavers, to whom I'll always be grateful) held up my piece and said "Don't ever hand in any shit like this again." For a lot of people, this would be the end. But I kept trying. After I graduated, I partied a lot, worked a dead-end job at Borders, and still clung to the designation of "writer." My life was slowly crumbling in 2008, and I moved to Seattle to live with my brother. I was unemployed for six months, and I started reading much more. This renewed focus on books then turned into a renewed focus on my own writing. That's where this blog came about: I wanted it to be a travelogue about Seattle, but right away, it turned into a blog for literary essays and book reviews. Another professor, Jeremy P. Bushnell, started a daily fiction archive called Instafiction, and he invited me to join as a co-editor to help him post daily links for stories from around the web (this then led to our positions as Fiction Editors for Longform.org). With this position, I had to read daily. Jeremy introduced me to some staggeringly good fiction. I'll never forget reading Matt Bell's "His Last Great Gift," a long story about history, religion, and mysterious creations. It was this story that really hit home and showed me what writing could do. So while I still seek out publications and I'm excited to see my own fiction published, I started writing what I do not for the sake of writing, but because art and writing can really change people. Good writing can make someone laugh, cry, or see things differently. That sounds like a terrible cliche, but it's true. "His Last Great Gift" was such a great work of art to encounter, and following Matt's Twitter feed led me to The Collagist and other writers/organizations producing amazing work that I was unaware of at the time.
How Does Your Writing Process Work?
Coffee and cigarettes. But seriously, it varies. I sometimes work in my apartment, I sometimes work in coffee shops, and I sometimes work in campus offices. Once I have an idea, it sometimes takes me a little while to get it going. I'm still my own worst critic, so sometimes I'll write two pages and get bored or abandon it because I don't think it has merit. A lot of my fiction ends up being very different than what I originally intended. I don't have any magic formula for my process, and really, it's boring. I sit with a computer, or a notebook, and a cup of coffee. I have a baseball and glove in the office, and sometimes tossing the ball up to the ceiling and catching it for fifteen minutes puts me in some weird Zen place that allows me to overcome some blocks. My girlfriend and I have two cats who keep me company.
I do a lot of my own editing, but I'm very grateful to people who read my work in its first draft stages. My girlfriend Patti isn't afraid to tell me if something isn't working in one of my drafts. She's a poet, but her eye for fiction is vastly superior to my eye for poetic forms. That goes for my MFA classmates as well. We're all very encouraging of each other, but we all have thick skin and can take critiques, because we all know that nothing is said out of negativity, but for the ultimate goal of helping each other become better artists.
Thank you for reading! I've nominated the following people to post their Writing Process Tours on August 29, 2014:
CLAIRE LOMBARDO (@ClaireLombardo) is a fiction writer from the Chicago area. She has a story forthcoming in an anthology from Fiction Attic Press and was recently named a finalist in the Cupboard Pamphlet's short fiction contest. She is currently at work on her first novel. More information and writing samples can be found at www.clairelombardo.com.
PAUL LUIKART (@PaulLuikart) Bio coming soon
BRENT RYDIN (@brntrydn) lives and works in Boston. He is the founding editor of Wyvern Lit, and has pieces published or forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, The Island Review, Cartridge Lit, WhiskeyPaper, and CHEAP POP. He has a website at brntrydn.com.