Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

riding-the-flume I first got to know Patty in the pages of the ICL newsletter chock full of writing tips and marketing information. A last name like Pfitsch really pops. She’s the author of the MG novels Riding the Flume and Keeper of the Light and also numerous articles and short stories. You can read more at her blog Brooklyn Bound, where she chronicles her adventures in the Big City after being a farmer in Wisconsin for 30 years. All for the love of a child. Grandparents are really wonderful.

I was delighted when she asked me to participate in this blog tour. Being a process junkie, I hopped on the bandwagon right away. Thanks Patty.

1) What are you working on?
After a summer of scribbling in my notebook, sipping tea on my back porch (am I approaching the stereotype of a Southern writer yet?) and writing on the go – in the park, at the beach, in the car – it is nice to sit in my office and finally do a bit of productive writing. I am revising a nonfiction children’s book and a contemporary young-adult novel, and for fun, playing with some picture-book texts. I realize this makes me sound like a dabbler, but I've always juggled multiple projects, allowing me no time for writer's block. Like housework, there is always something on my desk that needs attention. 
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t really know how to answer this. Most of my nonfiction is commercial and market driven but I bring my own sensibility of the topic to it. The current nonfiction book is a memoir, so only *I* can write it! I have written personal essays but this is the first time I’m writing one especially for children. Since I’m bound by a nondisclosure clause, mum’s the word. The young-adult novel is different from many other contemporary YAs because it is a story about making deep personal sacrifices, which is countercultural in today’s world, especially in YA, which tends to be more self-centered. You see self-sacrifice much more in MG fiction than in YA, but I believe teenagers are capable of greatness too.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I write to understand. I write to give a voice to the voiceless. I write to educate and to entertain.
4) How does your writing process work?
I've always had too many ideas. Perhaps this is why I enjoy writing short stories and articles. It satisfies my curiosity. Usually an idea takes hold of me and will not let go. I know when I keep circling it in my notebook (the old fashioned kind, made of paper) that it's time to switch to the computer and give those amorphous thoughts some structure, but I tend to do my best thinking on paper. My hand knows stuff that even my brain cannot figure out how to access.

Nonfiction is much easier for me to write. The story is already there and all that I’m doing is trying to figure out what it is that I want to highlight. I typically make an outline, and these are very detailed, but this helps me to see the flow of information, whether it is logical, whether I am going from simple to complex, etc. And in the outline form, I can see some overarching ideas emerging. I write an exploratory draft and by the end of it, I usually know how I will present it. Then I revise so that everything points to the big idea I'm trying to convey. I’m usually working with an editor at some point, so we go back and forth. And having to explain things clarifies them for me. I have been blessed with wonderful editors who ask the right questions and help me to bring depth to the manuscript. 
For short fiction, I write the story in one fell swoop. It’s only after I finish that I figure out what the story really is about. Then come many rounds of revisions until I am happy with it. I will send it off to my critique partners, who will point out the various blunders and help me to make the story better. I'm happy to say that by the time it gets to the editor, there are very few revision passes, if any.
For novel-length fiction, the process is similar, though it may take years for a story to gel. Once I am committed to writing a story, I try to outline it roughly so I have a road map of sorts. I know the beginning and ending and some of the high points of the story. I have written two novels and for both, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know what the story really was about until after a few drafts. But once I know, revisions go  faster. My critique partners are wonderful because they keep me honest. I tend to be plot driven and they always question whether my character would do something I want them to.
I make the process sound easy, but the truth is, writing is hard for me. I fight with myself about what I want to write. Ideas and story-people compete for attention. Time is limited. I procrastinate. Pray. Pet the cat. Go for a walk with my dog. Watch the children. Play the piano. Cook. Clean. And read, read, read. But all these activities somehow help me to figure out the stories. As you can see, I don’t often know what’s in my head until I start writing, so it is a messy process, with false starts, sputtering and choking. But somehow I manage to write … with the help of saints and angels, the "mews" giving me love bites, and just keeping at it even when the writing doesn't feel like it's going well. I am tenacious to a fault, but I always feel better when I write and figure things out. There's a satisfaction that is unparalleled in getting a story just right. I'm very thankful to have a writing life with my family. 
I am going to tag three of my favorite writer buds -- Marcia Hoehne, Faith Hough and Nancy Butts. I know Marcia is taking a blog break but I have powers of persuasion! She is a mystery-writer extraordinaire. I can’t wait to see her books in print! Faith is raising four little women and still manages to write gorgeous historical fiction (I don’t think she sleeps much). And Nancy taught me how to write a big story. I will always be thankful to her for all the time and effort she put into me. Please consider adding Spontaneous Combustion to your writing library ... I have pulled it out several times already. All three of these women inspire me to do my best. If you’d like to share your writing process, consider yourself tagged and play. Please let me know so I can share a link.

Happy reading, writing and ruminating, y'all.


Mirka Breen said...

Love your writing companion there^, Vijaya.

Leandra Wallace said...

Well, that's an interesting keyboard... ;) People who can write non-fiction amaze me. I wouldn't even have a clue as to how to do that. I'd be terrified of telling something wrong! Though I suppose that's what editors are for, huh? =)

Becky Shillington said...

Thank you for this peek into your writing process, Vijaya! I love to see how other writers' minds work!

Vijaya said...

Mirka, I don't think any writer should be without a feline.

Leandra, the editors hire independent fact-checkers to corroborate the sources you list, but mistakes can be introduced at any time (during the writing, editing and even copy-editing) so yeah, it can be a little nerve-wracking when you have to go through the manuscript for the umpteenth time and your eyes are glazing over ...

Becky, thanks. As you can see, it ain't purty.

Betsy J said...

I enjoyed this post, Vijaya. "Messy" is right!