#Mondayblogs Invite: Describe Your Writing Process

In my job as an editor I most often work with writers after they’ve been through hours and years of “process.” Research. Soul search. Wrestling with their own inner editors just to get it all down, then reduce, then like an accordion expand and reduce once again in response to my memos.

But today I’m taking down a few stones from the fortress that is my Publishing Professional persona, and I’m exposing the vulnerable creativity that dwells therein.

Terry Gibson, author of My Story Our Story, invited me to participate in #Mondayblogs by addressing a specific topic: my writing process. Just a note before we launch in: #Mondayblogs is a Twitter hashtag you can use for any blog post that you happen to share on a Monday. It’s fine if you’re writing on a Friday about pizza, but if you choose to tweet that post on a Monday you can still tag it #Mondayblogs (plus #foodie or other content you want readers to find). Then, the idea goes, you find others’ blogs by doing a hashtag search on Twitter. You read and leave comments, spreading your internet bread crumbs to the four winds and otherwise mixing your metaphors. You retweet and follow to your heart’s delight.

Anyway, I’m glad that Terry issued the invitation, and I will happily pass on her invite to you as well…with one little twist.*

First, here are my answers to Terry’s questions:

What are you working on?

An essay to share at a words-aloud event. I listen to The Moth and This American Life and tales from Lake Wobegon and I really, really get sucked into them. I don’t know how I ever exercised or did dishes before these things became available as podcasts. In 2013 some of my friends participated in the Listen to Your Mother Show in Sacramento, and I loved that too. So I am thinking to tailor my essay for Listen to Your Mother. There are a lot of other opportunities here in town to read your own work aloud, either on an open mic or as an invited reader. If I find that I just can’t share on the theme of being a mother or having a mother, then I’d still like to read something of mine aloud, so I can feel that immediate connection with people.

How does your work differ from what others are writing in your genre?

My Publishing Professional persona wants to skirt the “differ” part of the question and instead say what my work is like. That way you, the reader, will know where to find my work in the bookstore when it eventually shows up there. I would love for my work to be compared to Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, or to anything by Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros, or Anne Lamott (oh please let me be funny like Anne Lamott).

What’s different about my writing is that no one else–no one except for my siblings and cousins, I guess–had the grandparents I had, and not even my siblings or cousins necessarily remember the same things about them that I do. No one else but me is my kids’ mom. No one else has experienced, oh, I don’t know, Mile 702.5 on the Appalachian Trail exactly the same way that I have. My take on people and places and their special quirks is what makes my writing unique.

Why do you write what you do?

I write to learn. I write to learn history. I write to learn what it is that I care about now, and where and with whom I should be spending my time. Like a lot of people I also write to untangle complex emotions or decisions.

So far, the projects I’ve enjoyed writing the most are: 1) a series of blogs on May is Bike Month and 2) a Lenten series my husband and I did together about food insecurity. Both of these had a “challenge” built in, which forced me to focus. Either or both could grow into a book but for now, I see these writings as excellent compost, helping to break down all the other random eggshells and banana peels I throw in.

How does your writing process work?

I go in fits and starts but once or twice a week on average, I’ll challenge myself to write for ten minutes. I set the bar low, but I almost always stick with it for an hour or more.

Every so often I get together with a local group called Shut Up and Write! (SUAW). There are actually three SUAW opportunities in my area every week. Leaders post dates and locations on Meetup.com. We spend a few minutes at each gathering meeting and greeting, followed by—guess what—shutting up and writing. I usually get a surprising amount of new work generated. Or, I refine and publish one of my blog posts that’s been sitting in the queue a while.

If I don’t know what to write I warm up with a writing prompt. There’s a very nice list of prompts at the end of Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider. I also like to use the essays in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg for inspiration (I borrowed the image of writing as composting from Goldberg).

* Now for the twist. Terry didn’t ask me this but I am asking you, #Mondaybloggers and others who stumble across this post: What is your favorite book about writing? Yes, yes, Writing Alone and With Others is lovely. Yes, Zinsser’s On Writing Well–a masterpiece. But think outside the box a little…I challenge you.


A book about writing? I think so!


2 thoughts on “#Mondayblogs Invite: Describe Your Writing Process

  1. September 26, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    My favorite book on writing is/was “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott.

    1. Susan Herman
      September 26, 2014 at 5:48 pm

      Good one! I love Anne Lamott.

      I nominated Harriet the Spy because it’s a cautionary tale that, with some imagination, we can all relate to. If we’re going to write it down, we have to accept the risks of it falling into the wrong hands or being misinterpreted. You can sort of imagine that everything Harriet writes from her very methodical observations is raw first impression, which she will eventually re-categorize, stitch together, refine, and so on. I think Harriet, even though she’s a child (and a fictional one at that), gives us a great model of commitment to one’s craft.

      With that said, write on, Uncle Jim!