Monday, February 17, 2014

The Creative Process: The Writing Process -- A Blog Tour of Writers

So the amazingly talented Barrie Jean Borich, asked me to be part of this blog tour on the writing process.  In fact, it's called THE WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR, but you can see I've switched things up a bit in my title. . .yes, that's how creative I am.

Anyway, we're all asked the same questions to answer then we choose two more writers who will continue this on...

Barrie's answers to these same four questions are here and they are marvelous. I love how she relates her writing process to a "pirate radio station" with changing times and days.  

But before I get to my questions, let me introduce Barrie Jean Borich, who asked me to be part of this blog tour (thank you, Barrie!)

Barrie is is the author of Body Geographic (University of Nebraska Press/American Lives Series). Her previous book, My Lesbian Husband (Graywolf), won the ALA Stonewall Book Award. Her work has been cited in Best American Essays and Best American Non-Required Reading and she’s currently working on a book-length essay about repurposed industrial landscapes, urban joy, and riding her bicycle on the mean streets of Chicago. 

Borich was the first creative nonfiction editor of Hamline University’s Water~Stone Review and is currently a member of the creative writing faculty of the English Department/MA in Writing & Publishing Program at Chicago’s DePaul University, where she’s developing Slag Glass City, a creative nonfiction and new media journal focused on sustainability, identity and the arts in urban environments. Borich earned her MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop and lives now with her spouse Linnea a few blocks from Lake Michigan in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, which was recently voted the most “incomparable” gayborhood in the world.


To the questions:

1)     What am I working on?

Okay, I want to write "catching up" here, but that is SO uncreative.  So let's think about.
Here's my list:


We are just finishing these amazing Poet Tarot cards that will come with a book to help writers (and artists) with their own creative process.  It's actually much less of a divination deck, but more of something that writers can keep on their desk to get guidance on their work.  The deck is made of 28 poets and also suit cards (such as Ace of Quills, two of Letterpresses, etc.)  

It's been a long time coming and we hope to have a limited quantity to sell at AWP (seriously though, this is going to be close!) then offer them through Kickstarter in March. 


At some point, this will become Manuscript 4 and slowly it's working to that as I am beginning to see it forming in my mind, but right now, I've been waking up ridiculously early to write.   

I had a pretty tough autumn, lots of anxiety and emotional stress, however, all those not-so-great feelings produced a ton of pretty-amazing first drafts, which I really want to work on and revise.

I see this next book dealing with with themes of uncertainty, conflictedness, and the human desire for connection.  

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think overall, my work differs in that it may be more conceptual than other poetry books.

In my newest book, Hourglass Museum (also, now available on Kindle here), I basically tried to create a paper museum with each section being unique (yet joined together) exhibitions. 

One section "Sketchbook of Nudes" is without capitalization and punctuation (and rather revealing), as if all the poems are undressed. At the end of the book, I even include the Hourglass Museum Cafe' where the reader gets 4 extra poems as an appetizer, entree, drink, and dessert. 

This is how I see books in my head, as something larger.  The negative of this is I have quite a few published poems that never make it into my books because they don't "fit" my vision.  The positive is I feel (hope!) the reader ends up with a satisfying read due and many unexpected moments in the book as I spend a lot of energy on crafting both the book and the poems.

3)    Why do I write what I do?

My dumb answer is: because I cannot not write it.

My better answer is: because I believe in connecting with others and trusting that what's inside and comes out on paper is what we need to be writing about.  

My more surreal answer is:  we live a timeless existence on paper and it's open to every possibility so I may be writing about my father's death or I may be writing about seeing bones in the woods or I may be writing about cake, eating a lot of cake.  I don't think I necessarily choose, but my mind is more like a sky waiting to see what cloud animals or objects float by. It may be a flapper or the entire city of Paris, it might be a birth or a Roman candle. It's dreamlike, and bizarre, and is much more connected to a deeper part of myself. 

So I don't really know in a rational way why I write about what I do, but in a spiritual way, which sounds a little woo-woo.

Mostly best writing is done when I'm not thinking about anything else but existing in the poem.

4)  How does your writing process work

I seriously want to say "magic"  here because that is how it feels sometimes, especially lately.

I will tell you about my new way of writing poems and I think this may be helpful for other poets in finding their best way to write poems.

A few years ago, I noticed that when I was listening to group The Fray, especially the songs "How To Save a Life" and "Over My Head (Cable Car)," the poems came easier.  I am an auditory learner and very connected to sound; I've have played the violin (though terribly) through school, then started playing again when I was 40.

In the fall when I was not feeling like myself a friend sent me a link to a video of a sad song. Then another.  Then I started going on YouTube finding other songs that I connected with, that brought up in me the feeling of creation, or something-- melodies that would wake me up (though not in a bebop way, as there are few songs I love, like Harlem by New Politics which I can listen to on replay over and over, but I can't write to it).  And every time I found a song that brought me to that "place" where something changed inside of me, I added it to my YouTube playlist.  (I now currently have 76 songs on this list...) 

One song on the list that has inspired quite a few poems (not in topic or subject, but just by taking me to that "ready-to-write" place is a song by Crystal Fighters "At Home." I can just keep playing in the background, and it brings me to that place where something opens, something clicks and my writing just happens. Even relistening to the Fray today made me want to stop writing this post and write a poem.

I think part of it is habit. Like Pavlov's dog, I've taught myself when I wake up early (4:30 am - 5:30 am) and put on my earbuds, and choose a song from my YouTube playlist, it's time to write.

So my advice for other writers, is to write daily if you can, and find what creates the spark in you? Is it something you do-- light a candle, do yoga before, meditate?  Is it something you taste, drink?  A certain scent? Something you hear?

Another background sound I sometime put on is this:  it's called and you can choose the sound of rain or the sounds of a cafe to have your backdrop to when you write. Since I live in the NW, the rain comes without needing its own soundtrack, but the cafe is something I will put on in the background as it gives me the feeling of being out in the world and connected, even though I'm in my writing shed alone and no one is serving coffee or dessert.  (Um, that last sentence sounds more sad than inspirational, but it's actually a great way to write.) 

I think there's a lot to say about muscle memory, what you connect to your muscles (sound, movement, taste, touch, etc) when you write.  I know think I've just connected the muse to music and I'm in the habit of waking early, hearing music, and writing.  Though every day I just hope it's still there and when it is, I am amazed.  So realize, I don't even arrive to my dsek with a lot of hope, in fact, I don't.  But I also don't expect anything, and that's okay. If I type out a few lines that don't lead to anything, so be it. I just go through the routine--turn on laptop, go to YouTube, choose a song, write.  

And I think once we each find our way/time/style we write best, stick with it, daily.  

It's been an interesting process in watching how my poems have improved with the daily repetition of sitting down before the rest of the house is awake and writing a poem.  I feel so William Stafford here, except with a soundtrack and earbuds.


I'll be updating this post with the next two writers who will be adding their thoughts to this blog tour on their blogs very shortly!

Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently, Cloud Pharmacy and The Alchemist’s Kitchen, which was a Finalist for the Foreword Prize and the Washington State Book Award. Her other books include Cures Include Travel (2006) and The Cartographer’s Tongue / Poems of the World (2000) which won the PEN USA Award for Poetry and the Peace Corps Writers Book Award. She is the recipient of awards from Artist’s Trust, 4Culture, The Times Literary Supplement of London, Seattle Mayors Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the Fulbright Foundation.

Currently, she is Professor of English and Film Studies at Highline Community College. Susan also works as the poetry editor for The Human journal based in Istanbul, Turkey and is co-founder of Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women. Along with Brian Turner and Jared Hawkley, she is editor of the anthology, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Writing Across Borders published by McSweeney’s and the Poetry Foundation (2013). Susan lives in West Seattle, WA and writes in the House of Sky, a few blocks from the Puget Sound.

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, WA and the author ofBecoming the VillainessShe Returns to the Floating World, andUnexplained Fevers, available spring of 2013. Her work has been featured on NPR's The Writer's Almanac, Verse Daily and The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner. She teaches part-time at National University

Thank you all for writing and being part of this creative tour. 

~ Kells

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