My Writing Process Blog Tour
Min Kang tagged me on this “My Writing Process” blog tour, which was really sweet of her. Min curated Nola Studiola this past spring and that’s how I got to know her better—through her writing. She has a way of really making me believe her in words—that’s the best way I can describe the feeling I get when I read anything by Min Kang.
1. What are you working on?
Real answer: A novel. The same one I was working on last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, since 2009.
Specifically: This month I’m taking a break to shape two short stories that have been brewing for a couple-three years.
2. How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
Well, for one thing, I seem to write a lot about queer relationships without feeling or being queer. That’s weird. I mean, even when I was technically queer, I didn’t feel queer. And the queerness of that has stayed with me! And having to come out as gay, then straight, then bi…I think that makes any thoughtful person pay a lot of attention to the labels that help and hinder our expression of self. My boyfriend attended a pride festival with me this year, and coming out as a straight woman who needs to attend pride events and wants her boyfriend to do it with her was its own significant, emotional experience.
Also, I really like trying to walk this fine line in my writing between being serious and being satirical, because I guess I see the world as a constant mix of that. Sometimes I’ve found that my writing is received half the time as making fun of my characters, and half the time as being super-serious about them. I am pretty sure that figuring out that balance—or wrestling with it, with no balance in sight—is what I’ll be doing as long as I can write.
3. Why do you write what you do?
1. I write what I do to replicate the weirdness that I think the world is full of, (Like Marie Helene Bertino says) and because these things said and made by Ariel Gore, Lidia Yuknavitch, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and because Ralph Ellison’s essays and Invisible Man, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which is Not One, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Chinua Achebe’s essays and Things Fall Apart, James Baldwin’s Another Country, and JM Coetzee’s Disgrace. All of the above mentioned people have written things I return to again and again to inspire and befuddle me, and they make me write what I write.
2. I write what I write about because I haven’t figured out how to write about the next topic yet! And because when my father passed away in 2004, all of the little-valued, barely-acknowledged stories I had been writing all my life on the backs of receipts and napkins suddenly felt like the only real muscle of my existence—the only true thing. His death urged me to pursue what really made me happy. And for all its unhealthy compulsions, writing makes me happy.
3. I write to find a way to return and redeem the 13 year old Alison, who was accused of plagiarizing her submission to a creative short story competition. My story, “The Emerald Sphere,” was about unicorns and a forest and warfare made of glitter. The judges let me have honorable mention since they liked the story, but/and couldn’t find the movie or book they suspected I had copied. It was a really destructive experience. Very confusing to be accused of plagiarism, but have no evidence thrown at you. I hope I never do that to a writer, let alone one who has written about non-violent unicorn warfare. The suspicion that my ideas and words were mimicry—a mimicry I didn’t realize or know I had performed—taught me to distrust the things that came out of my imagination. I didn’t write—except for the afterthought backs of receipts—again for about ten years. I went to the most exclusive college me and my parents could propel me into, and looked for something orderly and well-cited and authoritative to study/hide: governments. But that took me to South Africa, where government’s sham is writ large, and that just took me back to the heart and the imagination, and the ways labels and classifications puncture and silence and wound. During my time in college, I tried to take a literature class but couldn’t sit still. I took one English class, a creative writing class with the writer Earl Lovelace, and his encouragement to keep writing freaked me out. I soldiered on, determined to be Political Science major/city government bureaucrat extraordinaire. Then life got loud, dad got sick, I found myself thousands of miles from most people I knew for various reasons, and in my grief and alone-ness, I realized I had some serious Alison-making and Alison-ness to return to. I write to reclaim the land that sprouted The Emerald Sphere—I have barely surveyed that realm; I am almost 40 and I have barely begun!
Ironically, I am a good mimic, by the way.
4. I write what I do to feel okay, and to be a better person/friend/lover/daughter/relative. If I don’t write what I do, I am in such a bad mood!
4. How does your writing process work?
I write obsessively and compulsively. I take several days’ breaks and then return to my composition book or laptop, famished to play with words, and to see my private decrees in ink in front of me. Huzzah! I’m the Queen of my invisible realm this way. Sometimes I write every day; sometimes I fit it in between dinner dates, freelance gigs and teaching jobs. Sometimes I tell people I’m going to do it like it needs a royal announcement, but more and more, I just fade away from cell phone/email/face time and do it. I used to be obsessed about making sure elements of my process and practice were “correct.” I am now a believer that there are many ways to be a writer. Also, as my friend Christianne Sanchez says, sometimes, life is loud. And so you just write in the cracks to keep you going.
More and more, I realize how inextricable the content of my writing is from the means by which I produce it. My novel focuses on queer rights if you want a bite-sized, quick explanation. But what that means to me is how we conceive of ourselves with labels, and how labels can distance ourselves from each other and sometimes our own experience. How nothing can replace the messy bits of conversations and revision in life—not even fancy labels that are supposed to do the work of meaning making for us, even the sophisticated language of school or our therapists. I have to write draft upon draft to get to the heart of that issue—with each draft peeling away a bit more at the source of whatever caricature/satire/label I’ve placed in the narrative. And it’s humbling, to try to figure out the line between tearing up your own work and simply peeling away what doesn’t belong.
I do a lot of throat-clearing—writing around something if I’m needing the courage to tackle it—in long emails to trusted friends (often in the shape of advice asking or sharing, analyzing relationships, what color I should paint my bedroom walls—they are “Dairy Belle" right now—in pondering or venting about the crazy city I live in, anything), in this manifesto, writing about other people’s writing, in creating ways for artists to build community.
I revise A LOT. For me, if it happens before I know where a piece is headed, revision can be like, clearing your throat a billion times in a crowded room of strangers at a tea party, trying to work up the nerve to say something, and trying to figure out the best way to break the ice of your own silence. Like what Ashley Ford says.
Sometimes I have to clean my whole house, to the great perturbance of my boyfriend, in order to think straight at my writing desk. Other times I have to abandon housekeeping and live in semi-filth. Other times I have to be in a crowded, noisy coffeeshop. Other times I have to be in a friend’s house when she is away. Other times I have to be in a really trendy coffeeshop; other times I have to be in a drafty library. Often, I need to feel alone to hear my own thoughts. Other times I have to write letters to my late father before I can do anything. I ask a lot of favors and permissions from people who aren’t around, and him especially. Other times I need to read something by Ariel Gore, Lidia Yuknavitch, Ralph Ellison, Erica Jong or Djuna Barnes to get going. Other times I need to check in with what my friends are creating, and, more and more, that means ordering (yay!) their books—Jennifer Tamayo, Jenn Nunes, Mel Coyle, DeWitt Brinson, Olivia Kate Cerrone, Jamey Hatley, Frankie Voeltz, Kristin Sanders—are some of my friends who I read.
I really like Susanna Daniel’s phrase “active non-accomplishment” for that daily experience of failure when you’re working on a project with no end in sight. Sometimes I need to do something like map a twelve mile rollerblade route and complete it, just to feel like I’ve finished something.
I’ve tagged three writers in this blog tour, and I am so psyched and honored they’ve agreed. In the next month or so, check back for links to these ladies’ answers to the “My Writing Process” blog tour!
Brandi Wells-I met Brandi through her words here. And then, on Twitter.
Drea Knufken-I met Drea in the carpeted third story of a Victorian house in Denver by the name of Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop.