Writing Blog Tour

I know; I’m late; I’m sorry.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Benjamin Woodard introduced me to this Writing Blog Tour that’s been sweeping across the globe.  He graciously asked me to participate, and per usual, I ungraciously came late to the party.  Anyway, here’s how he describes it on his site: 

The #MyWritingProcess tour is intended to connect writers from all over the world. The way it works is pretty simple: I’m going to answer 4 basic questions below. Then, I’ll introduce a couple of my writing pals, who will keep the tour rolling with a similar post one week from today (March 24).

Here goes nothin:

1. What are you working on?

Since December I’ve been working on a novel.  I’ve tried “novels” a few times in my life.  They all typically fail around 25,000 words—if they make it that far.  This one has made it farther.  It seems to have legs, though it may yet fail.

The predicament centers around a father who was present for his daughter’s death.  In the intervening years, he hasn’t been able to cope with it.  [Original, right?]  Part of the tension comes from the relationship he has with his wife, who seems to have been able to move on and put it behind her.  I think the real predicament is the betrayal the husband sees in the wife in leaving the daughter behind.  I’m trying my best not to get too caught up in the daughter’s death but to explore the dynamics of the marriage.

I’ve never lost anyone close to me, but my first peripheral experience with death has to do with a situation similar to the one on the novel.  I guess no one forgets their first confrontation of death.  This idea has been floating around in poems and short stories for years now.  I think the novel might be the best (only?) place for it.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

It is much, much worse.

One of the most useful pieces of advice I received from a professor (Nick Regiacorte) when I was an undergraduate at Knox College.  (I think he said he he got it from someone else who probably got it from someone else who probably, well, you get the picture.)  He insisted we Lower our standards.  This project is nothing but low standards.

Other than the very poor quality, I don’t know how/if it differs from other works.  It’s not done, so it’s hard to say.  As I talk about in the next question, I’m deliberately trying to resist the urge to innovate in this project.  Instead, I’m aiming for the middle of the road.  Essentially, I see this project as my apprenticeship.  A chunk of time spent humbly honing my craft.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I’m twenty-nine.  From the time I was old enough to write, I’ve always farted around with poems.  Limmericky, rhyming poems when I was a kid.  God-awful, why-does-that-cute-girl-who-sits-behind-me-in-algebra-hate-me poems when I was in high school.  And something closer to “real” poetry when I was an undergraduate (at Knox College) and grad student (at Vermont College of Fine Arts).

However, since graduating, I’ve started teaching at Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City, Iowa.  For the first fifteen months or so, my writing self had a very complicated relationship with my teaching self.  Essentially, the poems went away.  I spend so much of my time in Comp I and II talking about prose, about structure and flow, that I began writing more prose.  Actually, for the first twelve of those months, I didn’t write at all.  And then I started writing prose.  At first these were (I thought) prose poems.  Then I dabbled more in flash fiction.  Then the short story as it is known to most people.  Now I’m working on the novel.

The novel came about as a challenge to myself.  At the end of the Fall 2013 semester, I gave a talk about the condensed prose genres: prose poems and flash fiction.  In that research, I realized three things: 1) I still didn’t quite know what a flash fiction piece or a prose poem was, in part because 2) I didn’t quite understand what a poem really was, and all of criticism and creative pieces led me to conclude that 3) my work was vastly inferior to any of the work I was reading, learning about, and eventually talking about.

For most of my time in grad school, I was interested in this idea of being innovative, in bending or breaking the boundaries between genres.  But I realized that to be innovative or subversive, you have to have a firm grasp of what you are subverting.  I didn’t.  So I set out to try to explore a new form: the novel.  In this project, I’m not trying to be innovative.  I recently came across a Truman Capote quote discussing James Joyce which I find relevant to this endeavor: “Even Joyce, our most extreme disregarder [i.e. innovator] was a superb craftsman; he could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners.”  A large part of this novel project comes out of my desire to hone my craft so that I might, somewhere down the line, be able to innovate.

4. What is your writing process?

I no longer write in my office at home.  My office at home, by the way, is great.  It has this lovely and one wall of the room features built-in-bookshelves.  These shelves are even track-lit: Thank you, previous owners.

But there is too much guilt in that room.  I don’t believe that it’s actually haunted, but there’s too much bad juju in there.  This is the room where I prep for class and where I grade.  I have rubrics and extra reading packets and quizzes lying around everywhere.  It’s ominous.  Plus there’s the functioning computer with internet access.  Distractions abound.

Instead, I’ve started writing in my basement.  I sit at the poker table I built and type on the crappy laptop I bought one Black Friday for what really was a too-good-to-be-true price.  I can’t even open an internet browser on that thing, which makes it ideal for my purposes.

Typically I start by reading a little bit.  Sometimes I’ll write a letter to a friend (on the typewriter I also keep in the basement on the poker table).  Then I get to the novel.  I may reread the last couple of paragraphs, just to get the momentum going again.  I try to resist any urge to revise—low standards, remember.  My goal is about 1,000 words a day.  I rarely meet that consistently.  The closest I’ve come to having a “perfect” week is ending up with 6,500 words in 7 days.  But I plod along, day after day, looking forward to the new material.  I’ve got around 45,000 words right now.  I originally hoped I’d reach 60,000.  I don’t think it will end up being any less than 70,000.  I’m hoping I can complete the first draft by the beginning of July, when our first child is due.  That’s when the real work begins.

Stay Tuned

Speaking of real work, visit Leslie Erickson’s post next week.  She’s a hiker and writer extraordinaire.  And a doctor (PhD) to boot.

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