notes from a creative writing PhD candidate
My talented writer friend, former MFA workshop mate, and colleague at Phoebe and The Breeze, Will, tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Hop. He answered four questions about how and why he writes fiction on his blog, The Wildest Edge, and then asked me to do the same. Check out Will’s answers here.
What am I working on?
Lately I haven’t been writing any new essays; rather, I’ve been revisiting older pieces—some more than seven years old—and reworking parts of my graduate thesis. One essay I’m revising is about my eccentric, chain-smoking grandmother, Lilo, a German immigrant who lived in a trailer near Rehoboth Beach. Another is about the few months I spent in Berlin, age 20, when I studied abroad there. Since I’m in the midst of applying to PhD programs (in Literature with a Creative Writing dissertation) I am also working on my personal statement, teaching philosophy and studying for the GRE, all of which take time away from essay writing blogging.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not so sure if my work differs much from others in the creative nonfiction genre. As I’ve gotten older, and more comfortable in my own voice, I’ve started to play around with various forms of nonfiction—literary journalism, reportage, the lyric essay, flash nonfiction, and writing in the third person (rather than the “me-moir” that seems to be the most popular vehicle of the genre). A few writers have had a huge impact on my style—Amy Leach, Joan Didion, David Sedaris and Cheryl Strayed come to mind. They all write essays, but they’re so drastically different. I try not to get too locked into one subject or theme in my work, preferring each essay to stand alone rather than build on previously written pieces. My MFA thesis is described as a “series of interrelated essays,” but to be honest it’s more like snapshots placed in chronological order. They all have something to do with family and home (basically the two most obvious, common themes ever). I tend to write a lot about my mom, who passed away from cancer in 2010, and travels that have taken me around four continents.
Why do I write what I do?
I’ve kept a diary on and off since I was six, and I wrote for my college newspaper, but I was always a fiction-reading junkie: Salinger, Kerouac, Plath, Lahiri. Not until my final semester of my senior year at JMU did I realize what a passion (and talent) I had for the essay, even though I had been writing essays since elementary school. I think a lot of students—speaking from experience, both as a former student and a teacher—get scared by the word “essay.” “Write a five-page essay on…” Boooring. But creative nonfiction bends some of those formal essay rules that we’re forced to learn, and forced to teach—using first person, experimenting with form, throwing in-text citations to the wind, playing with incomplete sentences, run-ons, and line breaks. Another reason I write nonfiction is because I feel this urgency, this sense of “I have to remember this,” in many of my pieces. I can be a withholding, secretive person, but in my essays I’m painfully open.
How does my writing process work?
Sometimes I make lists of topics, sometimes I look at photographs, occasionally I’ll break out old travel notebooks or diaries, but more often than not I just sit down at my laptop and write whatever I feel that day. The best pieces I’ve written are ones that I wrote quickly, without stopping, and then came back and revised over a one or two month period. If I have to write bit by bit I lose the flow and can’t focus, and usually end up scrapping the entire piece. When I revise my work, I always have to have it printed out; I simply cannot edit my work on the computer. I like to print out my work and feel the weight of it in my hands, reworking it physically with a pen and many, many notes. Somehow I feel it’s more rewarding that way.
Check out these three intelligent and talented bloggers’ thoughts on their writing & blogging process:
L A U R E N
Lauren is the writer of NY Life Supply, a blog that features health, fitness, and nutrition news. She also shares her experiences, thoughts, and tips about running, after having completed her first half marathon in March of this year. She will be spending the summer training for her next half in September. She is also a freelance journalist whose work has been featured on the web for Fit Nation Magazine.
J P M
Born in the Midwest, moved to Colombia, homeland of his parents, shortly thereafter. Lived in the agitation of Bogotá until age 9, at which point he moved to the dully calm Northern Virginia with his parents. This back and forth accounts for his oddly split personality, hovering between chaos and order. Vagabond in Madrid after high school, eventually finished his undergraduate studies at George Mason University, where he also received a Masters in English. Currently working on falling off the grid. Read JPM’s blog, Last Transmission from the Land of Monsters, here.
M A R G A R E T
Ukrainian by birth, Lebanese by force, a lady by choice, a daydreaming dweller, a relentless writer, an eloquent speaker of five languages, an annoying perfectionist, an aspiring world-traveler, and a pet lover. Margaret has several works of fiction and non-fiction published in journals such as 5Stories and The Mantle. She’s currently working on her second novel. Check out Margaux’s Blog here.