It seems a game of Blog Tag is afoot, and I have been pulled in. As anyone who knows me knows, I'm always up for a game of tag. My friend, the egregiously talented story writer Mary Stein, has let me know the rules of the game: get tagged, answer four questions, tag another writer. And so it goes, into perpetuity.
The questions are custom-built for the writer's ego, so I'm happy to answer them:
- What are you working on now?
You mean besides this blog post? I'm actually working on two major projects, each of which approaches book-length writing from opposite ends. The one that's taking up the most of my time right now is gathering up my essays, published and unpublished, from the last four years, and making a thematically and (somewhat) narrativally cohesive manuscript out of them. The other is envisioning a book-length manuscript from proposal and seed-essay. Neither of these projects is coming to me particularly quickly or easily, as most of my writing has been at the essay level until recently, but they been terribly enriching to me, both as a writer and as a person. Oh, and a third project: my List and the Story stuff, which I go back to when I need a break from intensive product-based writing to think about my life and work more holistically at the macro level. I feel like I'm learning more about myself every day.
- How does your work differ from others in the genre?
I guess I should first define my genre. The word "essay" means so many different things in our current culture, both popular and academic; I feel like I spend whole semesters, for example, deprogramming college freshmen from standardized test-based five-paragraph essay writing. I think of "essay" more as a verb: an attempt (from the French essai) to make sense of something - an event, a person, oneself, the world - through writing about it. Peter Elbow elucidated this process pretty well in his seminal Writing Without Teachers: "Writing is a way to end up thinking something you couldn't have started out thinking. Writing is, in fact, a transaction with words whereby you free yourself from what you presently think, feel, and perceive." In this sense, every essay is different from any other essay - every writing process is different, even if some of them reach similar conclusions.
- Why do you write what you do?
Because I have to. I know, copout. Hopefully my other answers are better.
- What is your writing process?
I find myself tweaking and refining my approach to my work continually. I try to keep a fairly running journal, though many times that entails simply writing down a thought, impression, or series of words when it comes to me, on one of my notepads or (more and more often) on my phone. Every now and then, perhaps every couple of months on average, I take those entries and try to integrate them into what has become a fairly sprawling matrix: I have five folders on my laptop, in ascending order, which give me a (perhaps false) sense of order and progression:
- In Development - This is where I put things I've written down that seem important, but I haven't figured exactly why. It's where I start when envisioning what I want to write. Many times, when I'm perhaps stuck on a piece I'm writing, I'll go back and peruse this folder; many times, I'll find a variation on a thought I was looking for here. As you might guess, this folder is pretty full.
- Drafting - This is where I keep track of a piece I'm currently writing a first draft of. I try not to keep more than one or two pieces in this folder; if I find myself blocked on a piece and I can't get myself past it by looking back at stuff in the previous folder, I'll send the piece back there, and pick it up later.
- Editing - This usually has five or more pieces in it - essays for which I have a beginning, middle, end, etc, but which are not ready to submit. I try to give myself some time between drafting and editing a piece, so many times I'll move a piece to this folder when I'd finished drafting, work on something else, and pick up that piece next month or later.
- In Submission - This is where I keep pieces that are, in my opinion at least, ready for publication. I keep notes here on where each piece is currently being considered, the number of rejections, and possible venues.
- Published - My favorite folder! This is where I keep pdf's and relevant information of pieces that are in print somewhere.
So there. And Kristopher Jansma, you're it!