Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Writing Process - Blog Tour

There’s that old cliche writers have - it's something like, “Life seems to get in the way of writing!” 
I never knew exactly what that meant until the past year or two. This week proved no exception.  Good news:  my tardiness was indeed writing or “writerly” related. Last Thursday (April 10-13) I went to Austin, TX to participate and present at Story Circle Network’s National Conference, Stories from the Heart. ( So much writing, so little time.  But now, on to my belated Blog-Tour post!

April 14, 2014    #MyWritingProcess

     I’m breaking new ground, exploring approaches that are – for me anyway, challenging but intriguing. Today I'm answering four questions on the blog tour, My Writing Process, where writers and authors have been invited to answer the same four questions about their personal writing processes.

     My friend and fellow writer, Tania Pryputniewicz posted about her own work last week. Tania is an amazingly creative, multifaceted writer. She describes herself as a poet and, while the genre might be her first love, the breadth and scope of her poignant words combined with experimental approaches defy categorizing.  Please don’t miss the opportunity to read about Tania’s writing process, as well as some of her incredible essays and posts, by visiting:

What am I 
working on?

     This is our first question – straight forward as a warm-up to the more difficult ones. My greatest challenge in writing is having too many pieces I’m working on rather than feeling “blocked” or unable to conceptualize ideas about which I’m passionate enough to write. I came to non-academic writing purely by chance after earning my Ph.D. in research sociology. Because of that, what I work on at any given moment might be essay or a non-fiction short story in tandem with writing an article or book related to my research interests. 

     Currently, I’m rewriting and editing a collection of short stories – really more like creative non-fiction memoir pieces I've worked on for years. By now, there are twelve – each one at a different level of "doneness." They evolved from my experiences growing up with two parents who were Holocaust survivors so writing some of my stories started out as a creative vehicle for me to make sense out of a world I regarded as threatening and evil.

     Initially, each piece came to me as a stand-alone snippet from my life, usually inspired by moving, unforgettable, or distressing events and conversations. I wasn't aware of any unifying theme and didn't even think about it much until very recently. Once I began editing them - after having neglected these stories for about ten years, two insights hit me smack in the middle of my head! First, I realized that during those passing years, it feels as though my writing evolved tremendously.

     I’ve become much more focused - a more observant writer than I’d been even just a year or two ago; second, my stories’ unifying theme suddenly was surprisingly obvious to me. Even now, I marvel that the theme totally eluded me in the past. Right now I’m in the final editing phase of my short stories. Of course, one of the greatest challenges I think every writer faces is deciding that it’s time to let them go. It's tough to decide to just get the stuff out there already and quit editing! . Honestly, we could edit indefinitely because writers – like their writing, are in a constant state of change and evolution. 

     Now, because of the unifying theme, I'll publish the collection into a book that’s a memoir told through the form of short stories. I’m also working on a “soft sociology” book about decision making processes among mid-life women. By “soft sociology” I mean that the book isn’t overly academic because it’s written to appeal to a broader population, yet it does take an intellectual and academic approach that’s a step beyond the “self-help” genre.

     My new book is based on research plus interviews with women. I’ve interviewed numerous mid-life women, listening to their stories about their regrets in addition to those about their hopes moving forward in their lives. These have been hugely inspirational to my writing, helping me imagine some of their stories as creative fiction pieces.  

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

     Most of my writing conveys the high degree of awareness I had, even as a young child, about society’s disenfranchised – especially un-assimilated immigrants and economically under-privileged.  Those two characteristics seem intertwined so much of the time.  In large part, I think I’m exceptionally qualified to write about experiences from that world because I’ve actually lived in it until, when I was a young teen, my family moved to the USA.

     Truthfully, my stories and experience aren’t entirely unique. There are so many stories, essays and books in this genre out there – those written by other children of survivors. But two obvious characteristics differentiate my work from that of others in my cohort. First, too many writers in the genre try to make light of the nature of secondary post-traumatic stress and its associated loss through the use of humor. Secondly, other writers convey tremendous bitterness and it saturates their work. In my opinion, neither approach works particularly well.

     Sure, of course I’m angered and saddened by all the suffering and loss that was inflicted on my parents. How could I not be?  Who wouldn't be? The fallout of their altered personalities had a huge impact on me and continues to do so in surprising and strange ways daily, especially when I least expect it. On the positive side, it’s precisely these observations and experiences that have proven incredibly conducive to my writing process. Ultimately, they benefit readers.

     I also feel fortunate to have heard my parents’ first-hand accounts, gained tremendous insights from their stamina, then found a medium though which to convey those stories to a larger population. In a sense, my parents' stories and mine meld together and in doing so they have an opportunity to become a part of the public record.

The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival - my mother's story displayed at

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (‎)

Why do I write 
what I do?

     Since I do write in two very different genres – sociology and creative non-fiction, I think there really are only two reasons I write what I do.  First, my academic writing is based on my interests and curiosities about society. I'm always asking the same questions but in different ways. The question drives both my academic work and my creative non-fiction:  What makes populations behave in the ways they do? How could entire countries and continents be so complicit during mass-insanity that overtakes rational thought throughout history? What happens during historical events such a World War II, or segregation in the USA, or slaughters in the name of ethnic cleansing in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East? 

     My interest in these issues increases simultaneously with my age and awareness. I have a very personal relationship to this phenomenon so when I write my short stories – all based on my real life experiences, I hope to provide my readers with a deeper understanding of the long term generational impact of past events. In a way, my non-academic writing is a different version of my sociological pieces. 

Berlin: Memorial to Jews murdered in the Holocaust

How does my writing

process work? 

     I wish I could say that my writing process is systematic, well organized and consistent but it’s not. It is flexible, though. It has to be because I tend to give into my state of mind or moods or constraints of ever day life. If I don’t stay flexible, then I just become frustrated and “blocked” by that frustration.

     What I do have are writing triggers. In other words, a big chunk of my writing starts out inside my head when I’m alone. After that, I commit my interior writing concepts to paper. Usually, while driving or on long walks, concepts come to me – something like stream of consciousness writing that I follow. I always make a point to record a very short prompt about it – sometimes it’s on my phone or on 3 by 5 note-cards I always keep in my pockets. When I do sit down at my desk, 
I’m able to connect back to my concepts through the prompt. 

     I love most music, especially when I’m writing at my desk but I avoid listening to anything during walks. For me, that time is my most creative, time for being inside my head. The other part of my process is that, because I tend to stay up late reading, I take mid-afternoon 15 minute power naps. Thankfully, modern technology has been a huge help here! It seems as though nap time is also a very creative time for me. When something comes to me, I try to record just a brief message to myself so I won’t forget the concept. 

     My surroundings don't need to be quiet in order for me to write but I do find my productivity is best when I’m not in my office and don’t have my computer with me. I’m a big believer in writing by hand on paper, restricting my computer use for after I've gotten my thoughts down. Handwriting on paper keeps my self-editing to a minimum. For me, using a computer is the death-knell to my productivity in terms of self-editing!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why Do I Write? Or How to Defend A Cliche

Cliches Reconsidered: From Punch Magazine 1885

            That’s the standard question every writer is asked and feels compelled to answer, one about which all writers ultimately do write essays. Sometimes, even after having written such an essay, the writer will revisit reasons for writing with some regularity. But the topic, Why Do I Write, is far from a modern-day quest. It dates back – way, way back in time, possibly even as far back as writing itself does.

            We’ve all read numerous cliché answers. Among them: “I write to discover who I am, to gain insight into myself, to re-create myself, to make sense of the world around me, to understand what I am or to heal from trauma.

            I write – and have written, for so many of the same reasons but I’ve also attempted to write for a host of totally unrelated reasons. Like most writers, the solitary act of writing does help me manage grief, anger, and at times devastating disappointments or what - during the act of writing, seems like unmanageable problems. I’ve written to record my journeys – physical and emotional, as a vehicle by which to see where I’ve been, to assess the place in which I have arrived and as a mechanism to strengthen my resolve about where I’m hoping to go.

            During happy times, although easy to resist writing, I’ve oftem felt compelled to write specifically about the happiness and in great detail. It’s more challenging to write when we're happy. I know it is for me because what I want most is to stay in that moment. Taking time away from the feeling in order to write is a risk that I may not regain that happy moment. But we also lose sight of the benefits to be gained by taking that time. Isn’t it possible that during sadder more difficult times, we’re likely to reread the happier times, reminding ourselves how we arrived at them?

            Sure, these reasons are all clichés of sorts. And sure, most of us throughout the entirety of our educations, have been taught, to avoid those phrases referred to as clichés. We’re convinced that cliches are offensive, tedious, and smack of undeveloped writing skills.

            The reasons we list for writing might be clichés but our answers are totally unique. Our essay answers to “Why Do I Write?” are anything but cliches. Note the irony: Isn’t the question itself but a huge cliche?