9 Questions: How I Write

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“Am I?”

Last month my writer friend Kristen Ploetz asked a series of questions in a blog post called Nine Things I Wonder About Other Writers. I answered Kristen’s questions in comments to her blog, but two of my other blogging friends—Nina Badzin and Lindsey Mead—answered the nine questions on their own blogs, and I liked the idea so much, I decided to do the same.

Because here’s the thing…Kristen hit a nerve. With me. With a lot of others, too. Many have answered in blog posts, and I’ve read a lot of those  posts, too. They make me feel more connected to the online writing community and help me understand what it is to be a writer, to call ourselves writers—because, here’s the thing, just like Kristen (her incentive to the post), sometimes I struggle with identifying myself as a writer.

For me it’s back to that old question. What is a writer? I’ve worked as a technical writer and a freelance writer, and now I write fiction, blogs, and essays, yet, I do sometimes wonder if I have the cred to call myself a writer…which goes back to the question of what “other people” think of when they hear the word writer, i.e., a novelist? A traditionally published novelist? A newspaper writer? Aren’t we all writers?

Ironically, this was the topic of my very first blog post, published  February 6, 2011. Yes, I’m approaching my fourth blogiversary. In that post, I wrote this:

As a long-time technical writer, by training and profession, I’ve often been told “you’re not a real writer.” I remember the first time someone said that to me, I’d just finished writing a 400-page technical manual. Let me tell you, I certainly felt like a writer. Still, even as I branch out to business, creative non-fiction, fiction, those words ring in my ears. But, when I really think about it, I come back to this: words are words, writers are writers. As a cross-over writer, going back and forth from technical and business to fiction and creative nonfiction—I’m blurring the lines. This blog examines those writing lines and the people and pieces that blur them. Writers are writers, regardless of genre or specialty, we’re all putting words together. As Maya Angelou wrote: “We are more alike, my friends,/ than we are unalike.”

I still feel that way! And that’s why I’m chosing to revisit this question through Kristen’s nine questions. And here they are.

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

Yes. I (almost) always share with my husband. Sometimes in draft form, sometimes even as I’m writing.  In fact, MEH (My Engineer Husband)—as he’s known in this blog—is one of my trusted readers.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it?

This is complicated. Some of my friends are also part of my beta reader circle. For fiction—my WIPs—four friends have been part of that circle for one or all of my novels in progress. As for family, I have one aunt who’s read three of my novels in progress. I also have one self-published mystery novel. A lot of my friends and family have read this.

As for my blog, I can’t say for sure. My gut reaction is that almost no one I know IRL reads what I write—but I’m not sure. I’ve had comments from unexpected people, like random people I’ve run into at the grocery store, someone I met at the gym, one of my daughter’s college friends…my mother-in-law. Sometimes people will tell me they “keep up with what I’m doing” by reading my blog, and it makes me cringe because my blog is NOT necessarily representative of my life.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

I have lots and lots of words and articles and essays and multiple novel manuscripts in “the drawer.” Sometimes an essay I write and submit will end up on my blog (more usually a blog post I write might be expanded into an essay I’ll submit elsewhere). Fiction, which is what I am focusing on almost exclusively right now, never winds up on my blog. Anything that I write that gets rejected continually (there’s a lot, by the way) goes into the drawer. I view this as my training ground. Everything I write makes me a better writer, I know that for certain.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

Everything I write gets reworked some time, some how. It may just be a feeling or emotion, maybe a character, a scene I’ve witnessed, a conversation overheard. The specific passages I’ve written for one thing are rarely (I can only think of one chapter I ever pulled out of a past WIP to rework for another), but the feelings of a piece are definitely used at times for the bones of other scenes…everything is always stored away in my mind for future work.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

Novels, short stories.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

My biggest inspiration is what I see (and hear) and what I imagine. I have a crazy insanely wild imagination.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

Last year I read a book written in 1986 that I think is the best novel I’ve ever read, certainly my favorite by a long shot: The Blind Corral by Ralph Beer. It is out of this world good. It’s the only novel he ever wrote. I also love Tim O’Brien’s writing in The Things They Carried, and think it should be essential reading for content alone, but the writing is brilliant. I also reread The Scarlet Letter last year. I think Nathaniel Hawthorne (though well read) is not appreciated enough in the current day. His writing is incredibly modern in thought.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I really liked the first half of Stephen King’s On Writing. And the other craft book that is indispensible for me is Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Burroway and Stuckey-French, editors.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax?

I’m not sure “regret” is the right word, but if I had it to do over again, I doubt I’d have self-published my mystery novel.

As I said to Kristen in comments to her post: “Long story I’ll tell you over coffee someday.” If any of my writer friends make a trip to Maine (or I travel to wherever you are), we can meet up. We can talk about why I’m not so sure I’d self publish again and much, much more about writing—I’d love that.

Now it’s your turn. I would love to see how you answer these questions—in comments to my blog or on your blog (if you do answer on your blog, please link back to this post and of course to Kristen’s).

Happy Writing!

 

Comments

  1. Lindsey says:

    I love these questions and love your answers! Embarassed to admit it, but I’m not sure I have ever read The Scarlet Letter … sounds like I must! xox

  2. Kristen says:

    I’m glad you answered them again here on your blog! I need a drawer too. I mean an actual, physical drawer, I think. I have lots of pieces that get rejected that live on in my computer, eternally or otherwise, but I tend to forget about them. I think maybe having a physical space to put some of my more favorite pieces that I am not willing to let go of entirely and maybe just need to rework into something else might be a good idea. It will also help me stop recreating the wheel–often I’ll start writing something and say to myself, “hey, I think I wrote about this already”–and sometimes, I have!

    • I know exactly what you mean that having a physical space. It does seeem to make a difference. And by drawer I mean two cardboard file boxes under my desk! I very rarely go through them but sometimes it is nice to look — and believe it or not I keep drafts that have my handwritten notes on them. Sometimes it helps me follow my logic for changes. I also keep the historical drafts of manuscripts (as word files). I’ll be so interested to hear if you do it!

  3. I love reading these! I’m trying to reduce the amount of pure writing talk on my blog (only somewhat successfully), but I love your answers. And if I’m ever in Maine or you’re ever in Tejas, let’s swap some long stories! :)

    • Your comment really hit a chord, Annie! As soon as I hit publish on this post, I thought “wow, this makes at least seven posts in a row about writing…. that’s too many! I want to branch out (or at least re-branch, because I used to write a lot fewer posts about writing), too. And if I’m ever in Texas, you better believe we’ll swap stories :)

  4. Cynthia Robertson says:

    Great post, Julia. Loads of stuff I didn’t know about you/your life/your thinking. And I’d love to read a post about why you wouldn’t self publish again – I’m not likely to make it up to Maine anytime soon! (But if I did, I’d stop and see you.)

    • Thanks, Cynthia. One of my best friends just moved to Arizona so the chances I’ll be out there just skyrocketed so I’ll definitely let you know if I make it out there! As for the post about why I wouldn’t self publish again… it’s not that I wouldn’t (although rereading, that’s exactly what I said, I realize), it’s just that I regret self publishing that book in the way I did and I’d think longer and harder about it next time. Someday I’ll write about it!

  5. I’m glad to see your answers to these questions, Julia!

    I, too, consider Stephen King’s On Writing a trusted resource, but I’m not familiar with Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Thank you for recommending. I’ll put it on my TBR list.

    • Thanks for reading, Jackie. Yes, Stephen King’s book is a resource and quite fascinating to me in reading about his writing style. I love reading those kinds of books (the other one isn’t at all that way!).

  6. Julia–
    Although all the questions you ask are good ones, I’ll just respond to the one that stings: “Have you ever regretted having something published?”
    A novel of mine was taken on by an agent. After more than a year,she had failed to get me a deal, and we parted company. I was very disappointed and, yes, a little bitter, and I decided there was nothing for it but to self-publish the book. This I did–and then, too late, realized my folly: I had sent the book out into the world without first submitting it to professional editing.
    In my defense, I assumed the book was publishable–after all, a well-known agent had taken it on. But this was all wrong on my part. After I retained the services of a solid professional editor, I came to realize that the agent had not known enough to help me refine the manuscript before sending it off to editors.
    What this means is that, now, after having gotten the advantage of professional editing, I will soon reissue the novel (The Anything Goes Girl). It’s a hard lesson, but a necessary one.

    • I hear you, Barry. I’ve also had disappointing experiences with professionals, so I understand…it’s been hard to move past some of them, but it’s part of the nature of the business side of writing, maybe the business side of any business. Although my book was professionally edited, I have other reasons for regretting the self publishing — most surrounding my lack of marketing and attention to the business side of self publishing. I am looking forward to reading The Anything Goes Girl!

  7. Julia — What a fun and interesting delve into what motivates and makes you tick as a writer! I’d love to be a fly on the wall when you have coffee with Kristen and discuss why you’d never self-publish again. I read your mystery novel and enjoyed the bajeebers out of it!

    • Thanks for reading, Laurie! You MADE MY DAY!!! What an incredibly kind and thoughtful thing to add to your comment – about my mystery novel! Someday I’ll “spill all” about my self publishing. Thanks again for your kind words!

  8. Cherry Harris says:

    Where I used to live I belonged to a writing group where we all read our work it was brill really must find another My husband isn’t into fiction so I ask him to give me subject that he likes , then I write and he listens that usually works lol . Actually my husband is really supportive but he just hates reading he’s more into film . My friend has read my book and really liked it she will often talk about my characters …it’s a great complement .
    I am inspired by life , people , books , everything really .
    Can’t wait to read those books you’ve suggested …how do I get hold of your novel would love to read it .
    Cherryx

    • Hi Cherry, I love the idea of a writing group (but haven’t been able to find one). That’s a cool idea to have your husband give you writing prompts! I love that idea. My husband is a big reader, but we also watch a lot of film — and I also find that inspiring to my writing, do you feel that way? I have a similar experience with a friend talking about my novel and characters, and I agree, it’s such a good compliment. As for my self-published novel, I’d be happy to send you a copy if you email me your address I’m: juliamunroemartin AT gmail.com