Thanks very much to my dear friend Heather Grace Stewart for inviting me to participate in this blog hop about the writing process. I met Heather through some Twitter conversation a couple of years ago. It was like talking with an old friend. Strangely comfortable and most comfortably strange. She has been a great cheerleader and supporter of all my writing projects ever since. Thank you, Heather. There have been times that, without you and a few others in my corner, I’d walk away from this bloody and blessed obsession.
Heather Grace Stewart’s first novel comes out this June, but she is best known for her poetry, which includes: “Three Spaces”, “Carry on Dancing”, “Leap”, and “Where the Butterflies Go.” In 2012, she published the screenplay, “The Friends I’ve Never Met”, which has been well received on both Kindle and Kobo. Her two non-fiction books for youth are part of the Warts & All educational series on Canada’s Prime Ministers.
She has written for a wide range of magazines, including Reader’s Digest and Canadian Wildlife magazine. Her column in the Queen’s Alumni Review magazine, Grace’s Grads, was created in September 2005.
Heather’s poems have been published in Canadian literary journals, newspapers, and magazines, Canadian and British school textbooks, audio CDS, online journals, international print anthologies, and in the British small presses. She was awarded Queen’s University’s McIlquham Foundation Prize in English Poetry and the UK journal Various Artists’ “The Poet’s Poet” Award (2008 & 2012).
Heather can be found on Facebook , Twitter , her blog , and her website . Her women’s fiction/general fiction novel “Strangely, Incredibly Good” will be released by Morning Rain Publishing on June 5, 2014.
Yeah, she’s the goods. So, with special thanks to Heather, who still believes in me (and my future) as a writer, even when I don’t, here’s a look into how I do what I do:
What are you working on?
Until recently, I was worrying more than working. I’d suffered through a slowing down on day-to-day production for my blog. But since last year, I’ve gathered together a collection of poems and stories I call Penumbra, or The Space Between. It explores the observations and feelings, the radiance and darkness, of a man in his life’s penumbra, the space of partial illumination between perfect shadow and full light, no longer young but not yet old. The manuscript file gets tweaked a couple of times a week, depending on my mood and belief in myself that day.
I am gathering research for a novel I have gnawing at my brain and guts about a woman I read but a single sentence about from Somerset, England, who came to America in the 1700s. She is said to have been killed while fighting for the American side in one of the Battles of Saratoga in the fall of 1777. That, her date of birth and her name, Trish Bodden, is all I know. At that same time, a noblewoman from that same county came to America to be with her husband, who commanded a British grenadier regiment at Saratoga. I found the comparisons and contrasts of these women fascinating. It’s a push whether I’ll have an empty skull and abdomen before this novel sees its way to publication. But there it is.
How does your work differ from others in your genre?
Thanks for making me think about this self-centered mumbo-jumbo of the writing craft. I think my status as someone who’s written for publication and a living since 1975, yet only recently allowed myself to be open to creating things from my heart, makes me stand out a bit.
This is no doubt most obvious in my poetry. I straddle the line between dewy emotional ingénue and that gritty, seen-a-lot storyteller who wants you to listen his story and then get the hell off his lawn.
I have, I’m told, a unique voice and vision. That’s probably true, since I don’t read much other poetry and fiction from which to absorb any influences. Couldn’t remember them anyway. So my voice is unique to me. But what writer’s isn’t, right? I just hope mine is more ruggedly handsome than the next guy’s.
Why do you write what you do?
I write what I do because I can. Or, rather, now I can. It’s exciting to express myself as I couldn’t or wouldn’t allow myself only a few years ago. I think I have a lot of stuff I don’t even know I do that I can share in my own way for quite some time to come.
Every day I have to write something. Most you will never see. It may only be a line of a poem, or a horrible first paragraph of a story, a research note for a book I might someday write, or a list of words I free associate upon a subject that might become a poem or story I can dash off. But to not write something would be to stop treading the water that would draw me back into the shadowy swells of my old empty obsessions. I could sink so easily into them again.
How does your writing process work?
It’s changed slightly since my dog Mollie died. Not much in my life hasn’t. When I’m really open to the world and my feelings, some image or emotional expression will inhabit me when I’m falling asleep at night, on a walk or when Mollie and I would go out at 5:30 in the morning. By the time I finish my walk or my commute to work, that something has become an idea with strings of words attached. While my computer boots in the darkened office, I grab a pencil and pad and write…fast. I figure the poem doesn’t have to be an arbitrary good, it just has to be.
My story-writing process is a little less, oh..ethereal. For that, I somehow place myself into a scene, actually crawling inside it as 3rd-person observer or inhabiting the skin of the protagonist. And I mean, Daniel Day-Lewis Method-acting “inhabit.” I see, hear, feel and smell everything, which probably is why I tend to infuse a lot of deep detail into my story drafts. Maybe I’m a poet trying to write prose, or a prose writer trying to write poetry. Or maybe even a ham actor trying to portray each.
I have recently tried something new in my creative process that I’ve borrowed from Ray Bradbury and the terrific Canadian writer Sarah Salecky…lists. I’ll grab my notebook, write a word or image at the top of the page and then write 1 through 10 down the sheet. From there, I write whatever words ooze from the shelves in my head. Very free. I look at the list and find connections and off I go. Weird, eh? Don’t do it all the time, but find it a good way to get the ball rolling when I’m stuck.
The most important part of the process, though, revision and polishing, I have a major problem with. Some of it’s not knowing how to really revise, right down to the DNA, a story or poem. The rest of it might be..let’s call it Editor’s Block. Paralysis by analysis. In other words, I probably ned an editor until I learn (and am viciously brave enough) to do it myself.
And that’s the big secret of what you read here. It’s all pretty much first drafts with a tinker here and there.
PLEASE visit these following writers, who will be posting their answers to these questions next week, Monday, April 7, 2014. They are terrifically talented writers and have become some of what Heather calls the “friends I’ve never met.” They have the passion for expressing their true hearts and sharing them through the written word with you that I don’t think I ever could.
Beth Winter writes poetry, prose, and anything else her itchy pen decides to scratch. A self-taught poet, she has written nearly 800 poems, nearly as many journals and has possibilities piled around her. She lives and works in the beautiful Kansas Flint Hills. She maintains a website called Eclipsing Winter where you can read more of her work.
Emmett Wheatfall lives in Portland, Oregon where he reads, writes, and performs poetry. He has published four books of poetry entitled He Sees Things (2010), We Think We Know (2011), The Meaning of Me (2012), and Bread Widow (2013).
He has published four chapbooks under the titles Queen of the Nile, I Too Am A Slave, The Majestic, and Midnight In Madrid. Also, a number of his poems have been published by online journals and periodicals.
He has released three lyrical poetry CDs. When I Was Young (2010), I Loved You Once (2011), and Them Poetry Blues (2014), all of them contain great poetry writing set to jazz, blues, gospel, and pop musical influences.