So you want to know about my writing process?

Occasionally internet chain letters pop up, blogs tagging blogs tagging blogs. And usually I demur if asked to participate. But this one had such amazing people taking part, Kelli, Barrie, Kate, Wendy, that I had to accept.

When I met Kate de Gutes, I thought she might be something special, and wahoo, she is. She’s a wry observer and writer who started her career as a journalist and then got excited by new journalism which became creative nonfiction and is now called essay (personal, lyric, and otherwise).  A stickler for the serial comma, Kate also believes that there should always be two spaces between a period and the beginning of the next sentence. (Should I admit that I no longer believe in the two space rule? Yikes!)

You can read her work in journals and magazines, and on the interwebs.  Some of her favorite publication credits include Fourth Genre, Los Angeles Review, Pank, Raven Chronicles, and Gertrude. Kate writes on a wide range of topics, but her obsession seems focus on sexuality and gender presentation.

Kate holds a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing from the University of Puget Sound and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.   That sounds really fancy and impressive, doesn’t it?  Really it means she’ll have student loans until she is 72 years old and that all her liberal arts education makes her fascinating at dinner parties.  You should invite her and see for yourself. Kate will be charming and just may show up in a lovely patterned tie with a double Windsor knot. She will not disappoint. So go visit her at http://katecarrolldegutes.com/ and check out her work on the internet.

Onward to The Writing Process Blog Tour, because I know that many of you are trying just like me to be a writer, whatever that means in today’s culture, and are considering the what, how, and why of the writing process.

What am I working on?

Short answer: recovering from AWP 2014.

Long answer: In Alaska there is a syndrome in house-building called “when the tyvek is up, the house is done.” There are plenty of houses around where I live that are almost finished but not quite finished. I have a manuscript that has the tyvek up and I’m struggling to actually finish it. The manuscript centers on identity, mortality and my mother’s dementia. Each poem is titled with a line from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Most of the drafting is done. I could use about ten more poems in various places to create a true arc. Luckily, I have a month long residency in May at the Willapa Bay AiR to indulge in full-scale revision and structuring. I’d like to have the whole shebang wrapped up by June 1st . Hopefully I did not just invoke the irony gods by stating that out loud for the world to hear.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think my poetry is informed by my life which has included a whole lot of rootlessness, a complicated family situation, some ruinous relationships, and an open heart. Are the life situations I’ve passed through any different than any other person’s? Probably not: we’ve all had our hearts broken, we’ve all had our difficult times. Of course, no one has experienced the exact same combination as I have, the hopscotch between coasts that ended up in Alaska, a place of snow sculpted mountains, clear view of the scope of the universe in the night sky, and quirky introverts.

Or maybe my work differs from some other poets because I’ve always thrown the doors of my life wide, jumping before looking, falling a lot, but occasionally catching that updraft and flying.

Why do I write what I do?

Poetry is the language of falling snow, of turning over the compost, of putting a pearl necklace around my aged mother’s neck and of considering the pain she has handed down. Hayden Carruth wrote, “Why speak of the use of poetry? Poetry is what uses us.” Poetry is the lens through which I see the world, the practice I use to listen and focus. Poetry uses me as a conduit for each day’s unfolding.

I write to live my life with attention and compassion.

 How does your writing process work?

Long gone are the days of “write when you feel inspired.” Now, I understand that inspiration is a product of providing good growing conditions and planting the seed.

Growing conditions:

  • Read. A lot. In all genres.
  • Get outside and exercise. Don’t live in your head all the time.
  • Embrace silence. As an introvert, I need silence and retreat to stockpile energy to create.
  • Write every day. I start out the day with a half hour of writing that is usually a riff between a good quote from whatever I’m reading at the time and my life. Most often, things come up in the half hour that spark something that will become a poem. Write write write, and don’t stop. The seed arises from the strata of fertilizer (nice way of saying shit) that gets put out on the page before the real writing starts.

Planting the seed:

  • Be continually awake. The universe is endlessly handing you things to write about.

Here’s the writing process I’ve been employing in my current manuscript. I’ve pulled lines that I found evocative from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and written them in my notebook. At the beginning of the week, I write one on an index card. I pull the card out of my pocket a lot and look at it, priming the pump. I jot ideas when I have them. By Friday, I’m ready to sit down, read a few warm-up poems by the poet I’m currently reading (one new collection each week this year). Then I compose a draft. Usually I complete it in one sitting. Sometimes, I have to come back to finish. ALWAYS, I have to revisit the draft multiple times to revise and polish, revise and polish.

Up next

Next week: the amazing Sandy Longhorn, poet extraordinaire at sandylonghorn.blogspot.com.  Here’s a little taste of what she’s up to: Sandy Longhorn is the author of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, winner of the 2013 Jacar Press Full Length Poetry Book Contest and Blood Almanac, winner of the 2005 Anhinga Prize for Poetry.  New poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hotel Amerika, The Southeast Review, and elsewhere.  Longhorn teaches at Pulaski Technical College, where she directs the Big Rock Reading Series, and for the online MFA Program at the University of Arkansas Monticello.  In addition, she co-edits the online journal Heron Tree and blogs at Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty.

And you? With AWP and the chaos in my life, I haven’t secured a second writer/blogger to take part, should it be you? Get in touch and I’ll send you the particulars!

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