Posts Tagged: writing

Writing about writing

Here’s how I used to write in college:

Whenever I had a story due for workshop, I’d hole up in the library for an entire weekend. I’d leave to eat and sleep and stuff like that, but mostly I’d just stay there. Some of my favorite college memories took place in an empty library on Friday and Saturday nights (when everyone else was out partying) or on Saturday or Sunday mornings (when everyone else was hungover). Clearly I was a crazy party animal; like, tone it down, college Kerry! Don’t be so buck wild.

I liked sitting in one specific cubby because it was the one of the few where passersby couldn’t easily see what you were writing, and I’ve always hated writing where people can see me. One of my brothers, as a baby, used to hide behind the couch when he pooped, and I’ve always thought of writing kind of like that. It’s a gross process and I need to hide behind a metaphorical couch to do it. In this particular cubby, someone had scratched the words “WHEN I SAT HERE I TOUCHED MYSELF.” I ignored that and tried not to think about some strange college bro’s penis. I was mostly successful.

I’ve always been a slow writer, and my writing process has always been “Start writing one thing, write it for several hours to a day to a week before realizing what you’re ACTUALLY supposed to be writing and then write that quickly.” It’s not an efficient way to write, but it’s my ~*~style~*~ and I can’t change it, try as I might. This means I have a lot of frustrated break time and I often feel like giving up and/or reading something. So that’s what I’d do. I’d write a bit, go find a short story collection or a literary magazine and read a story, go write some more, read another story, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I loved the weekend I spent writing a story for my junior year creative writing workshop while reading every single Miranda July story at the library. This was before her short story collection came out, so her stories were spread out across various journals. I read every story the library had while trying to work out a story about how lonely and sad and directionless I felt. It came out as a story about a girl who worked for a phone sex hotline, and I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to write it if I wasn’t reading Miranda July’s fearless, weird stories about strange women and their strange desires. The story wasn’t really about anything I knew, but the feelings were, the feeling voiceless and small. It felt good to get that out, and it felt like she was holding my hand the whole time and telling me I could do it.

That’s how I wrote everything–with the whole library full of writers cheering me on and giving me hope. I could’ve written stories at my weird, raccoon-infested apartment, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

I don’t write at the library much anymore, but my writing style is still the same. I still read while I write, just hoping the writer will help me keep my head above water while I’m confused and lost and doubting myself. Even if the story or book is nothing like what I’m writing, it helps to see that other people are doing it, too. I might feel like I’m all alone, but I’m not. Not at all.

Lady Inspiration: Roxane Gay

By now, you probably all know and love Roxane Gay. If you don’t, then we are clearly using different internets. Either way, Roxane Gay rules and she’s one of my writing role models. I’m always in awe of her productivity, her amazing and emotional prose, and her great attitude. This interview on The Great Discontent just further illustrates her awesomeness.

The whole thing is worth reading, especially the part about the Midwest, but I’ve really been thinking about this:

“Writing is not a tortured act for me. I don’t have any angst about it, and I don’t find it to be a painful misery. Writing is the one endeavor that makes me purely happy, and it comes fairly easily to me. I don’t know why I’m that lucky, but it’s true.
There are definitely times when I have writer’s block, and it’s infuriating, but writers love to dramatize the suffering of the writer. I don’t judge them on that, because it’s their truth, but I’m suffering when I’m not writing: it’s what I do for fun. When people say I’m prolific, I think, “Well, it’s kind of my self-medication, and it doesn’t feel like work.”
I’m a happy writer, and although that hasn’t always been the case, I count my blessings. I’m finally in the place I’ve always dreamed of. Maybe my dreams weren’t that big, but I just wanted to write and have people read what I had to say one way or another. I have that, and I have been lucky to work with editors who let me be myself in my writing. I wrote the novel I wanted to write, I wrote the essay collection I wanted to write, and I haven’t had to compromise. I’m truly creatively satisfied.”

Pretty often, it’s easy to get sucked into this whole “writing is torture” thing, because that’s the way a lot of public writers treat it. It’s good to remember that it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s not how everyone views writing! Most of us started doing it because it was fun, or satisfying, or just because we were good at it, and I think it’s useful to reconnect with those feelings when we’re starting to get discouraged. Writing is work, but it shouldn’t be torture.

Creative Ladies: MariNaomi

marinaomi-headshot

MariNaomi is a writer/artist whose work has been featured in approximately one million places, including The Rumpus. She was nice enough to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about her work process, her inspirations, and her advice to other creative ladies. You can find MariNaomi all over the internet…on her website, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook. You can also join her mailing list here.

What’s your main creative gig (this can be your day job, your freelance work, or both)? Describe what you do on a normal working day.

I make comics. Lately I’ve been spending my days thumb-nailing a young-adult graphic novel and setting up promotions for my next book, Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories, which comes out in the fall with 2D Cloud. I’ve been getting all my ducks in a row with logistics (like scheduling book tours) and odds and ends (like cover artwork, indicia, etc.).

A sneak peek into MariNaomi's next book, Dragon's Breath and Other True Stories

A sneak peek into MariNaomi’s next book, Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

I love photography and singing alone in my car. Comics used to be my just-for-fun hobby, and I kind of miss those days.

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

Really good writing, an innovative piece of artwork, the success of my friends, getting a good review, meeting people who like my comics, meeting my heroes.

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

Careful black brushstrokes

A panel from Dragon's Breath and Other True Stories

A panel from Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories


How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

I take frequent breaks to rest my fingers and my brain, usually by checking social media sites, exercising, or wrestling with my dogs and cats. If I don’t, I fear my drawing hand will turn into an arthritic little nub. When I dive truly into The Zone, I stop feeling things like hunger, fatigue and pain. I forget to pee.
I used to snack on my breaks, but I stopped doing that when my metabolism slowed down. Thanks a lot, middle age!
heaven

What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

My book, Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22. It’s not perfect, but I put more work into creating, publishing and promoting it than any other thing in my life. I’m also very proud of my next two books, but I don’t want to call them “accomplishments” just yet, as they haven’t seen the light of day.
Artistically, I’m always the most proud of the very last thing I did. It’s a survival tactic that I think many artists have, this delusion. But I would be silly saying the “best thing I ever did” was a review of a book or a cluster of thumbnails. And after I did my next thing, my mind would change and that thing I said before would no longer be the best.

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

I’m not proud of some of my earlier work. A few years ago, I got contacted by the Library of Congress, which somehow got hold of one of my very first self-published zines, from back in the nineties. They wanted to verify some things. I asked if he might quietly dispose of the evidence, but alas, he would not.
But as long as I’m doing creative work and (hopefully) strengthening my talents, I’ve got to accept that I’ll constantly be embarrassed by looking back at the old work. I have a hard time reading Kiss & Tell, for example. Even though I’m proud of it, I’ve grown so much since it came out, as an artist and a storyteller. If I’m lucky, five or ten years down the line I’ll feel the same way about the work I’m doing now.

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

My sister is super inspiring. She’s a physical therapist, Bhangra dancer, painter and marathon runner. Also, Yoko Ono. Also also, about a hundred lady cartoonists. Women who make comics are some of my favorite people in the world.

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Before I met my husband I’d wake up in the afternoon, do errands and socialize during the day, then get to work once the sun went down, not stopping until the sky started getting light. But Gary changed all that with his morning-time ways. Nowadays I wake up early, but I don’t really get going until after lunchtime. Between 1 and 7 p.m. are my peak hours, although I will work before and after those times.

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

I have a menagerie of animals who alternately relax and confound me. Also, wine with dinner is very helpful. And sex. Oh, and drawing comics!

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

Comics:
The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner
The You’ll Never Know trilogy by Carol Tyler
Never Forgets by Yumi Sakugawa
My Dirty Dumb Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt
One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

Non-comics:
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Valencia by Michelle Tea
Nochita by Dia Felix
Rat Girl by Kristin Hersch

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

Practice a lot. Join a figure drawing class. Read as much as you can—pick apart your favorite stories and think about why they were so good. Pick apart the bad stuff too. Be patient. Understand that getting good takes time, and getting recognized takes even more time. Get involved in your community—meet people who do what you do so you can support each other through happy times and rough times. Don’t dawdle. Get to it.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

I’ve never thought of a motto! But a good rule to live by is avoid professional jealousy, do your best to help others, and be happy for your friends. There’s room enough for everyone in Creativity Land.

Creative Ladies: Laryssa Wirstiuk

LaryssaWirstiuk

Laryssa Wirstiuk is the author of The Prescribed Burn, which I wrote about on HelloGiggles way back in 2012. I really enjoyed her book, so I was super-excited that Laryssa agreed to answer my nosy Creative Ladies questions. You can find Laryssa on her website and on Twitter @ryssiebee.

What’s your main creative gig (this can be your day job, your freelance work, or both)? Describe what you do on a normal working day.

I have two primary jobs: I’m a college-level writing instructor and a marketing professional. I teach creative writing and digital media at Rutgers University. In addition, I work for a small pharmaceutical marketing agency in Manhattan. When I’m not doing either of these jobs, I tutor privately, edit manuscripts, and write articles/reviews. I don’t really have a normal working day because every day is so different; the best part is that I have a lot of control over the hours I spend working!

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

My main hobby is creative writing. I enjoy writing short stories, poems, and plays. When I don’t feel like writing, I practice yoga, experiment with vegan cooking, and play with my dog Charlotte Moo. In addition, I like to read books and magazines.

Laryssa's adorable dog Charlotte

Laryssa’s adorable dog Charlotte

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

My students definitely inspire me. I’m so charged by their positive attitudes and their hopeful outlook on the world. I’m also inspired by my belief that I’m only guaranteed this present moment; with this attitude, I try to fill the present with as much joy and creative energy as possible.

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

Color, simplicity, depth.

How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

To be creative, I definitely need quiet and some time to myself. On days when I’m rushing from task to task or surrounded by lots of people, I feel like my head is crowded with noise, and I struggle with being creative. I sometimes need to spend an entire day alone to decompress. Though I wouldn’t describe myself as shy or reserved, I’m definitely an introvert and use alone time to recharge my creative batteries.

What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of my book The Prescribed Burn, which I published through my publishing company Painted Egg Press in December 2012. The Prescribed Burn evolved from being my graduate school thesis, which I started in the fall of 2007, into a complete short story collection. In May 2012, I used Kickstarter to raise $5,500, which covered the costs of printing the book. In the fall of 2013, my book won honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards, in the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-exclusives/april-14/21st-annual-writers-digest-self-published-book-awards-winners.

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

When I was in graduate school, I started an online magazine called Too Shy to Stop. I recruited young writers from all over the country to submit articles related to arts and culture and hired both a designer and a programmer to build the site. I loved running Too Shy to Stop, but it involved a lot of work; I was basically running an online magazine by myself! I ran out of energy and time, and I couldn’t figure out how to monetize the project. I consider Too Shy to Stop to be one of my biggest failures. What I learned from it is that I’m passionate and energetic, but digital publishing is a tricky industry that often requires more luck than strategy.

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

My Creative Lady role model is my friend and current boss Madeleine Beckman. She’s a published poet, journalist, fiction writer, and overall awesome person. I see her about three times per week, and I can talk to her about anything from the latest New York Times book reviews to fashion to the men we’re currently crushing on. I consider her to be one of my mentors, and she’s given me a lot of invaluable advice about building my career.

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I love waking up early, especially on the weekends, because everything is so quiet, but I’m definitely most creative at night, right before I go to sleep. I sometimes need a whole day to mentally prepare myself for writing. I can’t just wake up and write.

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

To relax, I practice yoga and “japa mala” meditation, which is a type of meditation that uses “japa mala” beads or Hindu prayer beads. I also love reading vegan cooking blogs. I’m addicted to pinning vegan recipes on Pinterest.

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene: The ultimate guide to understanding what attracts one person to another and how you can make that knowledge work for you.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson: A genre-bending study of the color blue.
The Stranger Manual by Catie Rosemurgy: One of the most unusual and awesome poetry collections I’ve ever read, The Stranger Manual follows a fictional character named Miss Peach.
The Meat and Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom: Another genre-bending book, this is an amazing coming-of-age story.
Proofs and Theories by Louise Gluck: For anyone who loves poetry and language, by a Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet.

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

I can’t say it enough: believe in yourself. No one will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself first. You have to be your own best cheerleader and advocate. You have to “fake it until you make it” with the blind faith that what you’re doing every day is moving you forward, closer to your goals.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

Trust the process.