My lovely writer-buddy Sophfronia Scott from Vermont College of Fine Arts invited me along on this journey – My Writing Process Blog. She is a beautiful soul, a talented writer who has worked at Time magazine, so when she started her MFA she was already a high-flyer. She is a fearless with her words; kind, generous and not scared to go to the dark places. The real deal. OK, so she is super organized (the opposite of me) but I still love her. You can read all about her here – http://thebooksistah.com/authorsite/
Confession: I am a Blog Virgin. This is my first entry ever. So be patient with me please.
What am I working on?
I always seemed to be writing several things at once. I’m a Genre Slut – can’t be faithful to Poetry, Essay, Short Story, Novel or Memoir alone. I flirt with the occasional medical feature article too. And I’m the poetry and fiction editor at the Medical Journal of Australia, and Online Editor at Hunger Mountain. Oh, and I have six children’s picture book manuscripts in my bottom drawer. I used to apologize for my literary polygamy, but I’m starting to accept it as an essential part of my process. If my desk is messy I know I’m being productive. I get brain fog if I spend too long focusing on one project; lose perspective completely. So, if a wayward poem pops onto the page in the middle of editing my novel, I go on a date with it straight away. I have three books coming out over the next eighteen months, each one of them grown out of feeling passionate about the subject matter. Cracking the Code (Random House 2015), a book I am writing with Sally & Stephen Damiani, grew out of an essay I wrote for Griffith Review, about their little boy Massimo and his rare genetic condition. We’re all Gonna Die (Harper Collins 2015) is an exploration of cultural attitudes to death, something I deal with on a daily basis in my line of work. The Waiting Room (Vintage Knopf 2016) is a novel I have been working on for years. That has been the hardest and most rewarding project I’ve ever tackled. An obsession and a true labour of love. And a new novel has started to call – I’m only 20,000 words in, but already finding myself seduced by its charms.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
See above. Genre shmenre. The writing is the one who chooses the form, not the writer. So, I might set out to write a poem, but it morphs into an essay along the way. Or a short story shmeers into a novel, bless its boots. I have to let it decide for itself. My job as a family physician in a busy clinic has prepared me for this – I never know who will walk in the door and what challenges the day will bring. Gotta go with the flow and be accepting.
Why do I write what I do?
I spend my days telling people they should exercise if they want to stay fit. But I’m a slug myself. I did get a ribbon for 5th place in grade three for tunnel-ball though. I really lack the passion when it comes to sport. Sorry sport – I’m just not that into you. Writing, on the other hand, well, that’s a true love affair; I can’t imagine my life without it. Come to think of it, my first poem was published when I was in grade 3 too – The Royal Beetle Bug. I guess I write what I do because I feel urgent and excited about something.
How does my writing process work?
David Grossman, one of my favourite writers says that writing fiction “is like revisiting this space where everything is possible.” When I set out to write a poem, short story or novel I know almost nothing about what words will fall out on the page. Grossman says: “…the story starts to act like a cunning carpet-merchant. It unrolls and unfolds dozens of colourful carpets, and I’m tempted very easily.” I love letting the writing lead me where it wants. For that reason, I can’t be organized or plan ahead. I can’t follow recipes when I cook either – I get too bored and it feels like a chemistry prac. I’d far rather trust my instincts. It means half the time the result is a flop, but I rewrite and edit a piece a million times till I get it feeling right.
Passing the Baton
I’d love to introduce you to the talented Kirsten Alexander – writer, copywriter and editor. She has worked in print, radio and web. Kirsten is the editor of the terrific digital magazine Open Field, www.openfield.com.au. She has a fiction manuscript with her Melbourne-based editor, and is currently writing another. Her website is www.kirstenalexander.com