How does a person write a book?
There are as many answers to that as books, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to learn from looking at the writing process. Indeed, there is much to learn and share and thus I was thrilled to take part in the #MyWritingProcess blog tour. It’s a sort of chain-letter style blog tour where writers share their insights and then pass the torch onto other writers. I am thankful to Betsy Teutsch at http://www.womensglobaltoolkit.com/ for inviting me. I met Betsy when she interviewed me for 100 Under $100: the Global Women’s Toolkit. It’s an inspiring project and I got to talk about my experiences with cloth diapers in the developing world (and a few other things as well!)
1) What am I working on?
Green Mama: Giving your child a healthy start and a greener future published by Dundurn was just released in Canada last weekend and is released in the U.S. July 8th. I spent a year working steadily on turning 8 years of research into that book. Yet, just like having a new baby, I realized that it actually just gets harder after the book is released!
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
When I was shopping for agents, I was warned that publishing books in the U.S. right now–unless you are famous or rich–is really hard to do. But, I believe that it is very important that people see that it is not just the rich and famous who deserve healthy children. It isn’t fair that parenting has become so hard, but it is the reality and there are ways to make it easier and to protect our children in the process. In the Green Mama book, I share lots of helpful ways to do this. I also share advice for those living with less money, those living in remote communities, and I include resources for both U.S. and Canadian parents (which face many challenges that America parents don’t, especially when it comes to finding greener options and Canadian-specific research).
3) Why do I write what I do?
I am a writer and an ecological designer and a mother. So, I can’t help myself: if you tell me a story about someone forgetting their child in a car, I respond with facts about how we have created economic systems that require two parents to work and carseat regulation that has left North American children more vulnerable than just about anywhere in the developed world. Perhaps the connection isn’t immediately obvious, but I love a challenge and I see things in large, inter-locking relationships.
The problems of the world are not the fault of parents, but it is parents–and, ultimately, children–that end up paying the price. I refer to this study of the world’s systems and its relationship to us people as “green” and that is a pretty broad definition. In the end, I usually end up writing about the stuff that currently fascinates me. When my children were young, that meant issues of toxins, health, communities, and young children. As they age, my interests grow and expand.
4) What does my writing process look like (or a few tricks that work for me.)
Well, if I may be so bold as to condense $50,000 worth of an MFA (and my own experience) into one list (and I am), here are a few tips that sometimes work for me.
1. Just write. The difference between a writer and a non-writer is just that. Write. One trick to help is to set a word count. When I was working on a novel (unpublished), I had a word count minimum of 5,000 words a day. Everyday. Now that I have kids and a business and writing deadlines, I found that I didn’t need to have a word count to produce. I just needed time. For me, two hours in the morning is worth double that in the afternoon or evening. I would take what I could get, but I tried the hardest for morning hours.
2. Limit the distractions. For better or worse, often my book writing time was in the public library. This worked well for me, because I couldn’t answer my cellphone without getting yelled at by the librarians, there was not refrigerator to look into every 15 minutes, and my email didn’t work correctly there. I also have a few other “rules” that I apply to my writing life. LIke no media during daylight hours, etc. Still, the call of FB and Twitter and email is a strong one…
3. Don’t edit yourself. It’s easy to criticize. Especially one’s self. When you are working on content generation, I try to limit the amount of editing I do. Once I click on the editor brain it is hard to let the content flow. There is plenty of time to edit once the work is written–indeed, that is what your editor and writer friends are for. It was painful, but my book lost half of its words from the time it was “finished” to the time it was published.
4. Have a writing buddy. It is gold to have someone that you love and trust and admire edit your work. This is the real wealth of writing programs. Although for the Green Mama book my writing buddy was a friend that I had made through both writing for the Vancouver Observer. She read every single bit of my book, helped me shrink down each chapter–often by thousands of words–and helped me let go when later editors wanted to cut things that I loved. I am not, however, a fan of writing by committee–or overly “workshopping“–one’s work. You are unlikely to get edgy and fresh when you have too many eyes.
5. Get away–even if just in spirit–everyday. During the process of pitching, then selling, and writing my book, I was in a bike accident that caused severe nerve compression in my back and sacrum. I could not sit or walk often for days or weeks at a time. I was often in intense, excruciating pain. I was hospitalized for almost a week. It was a very difficult time to be a mother of young children and a very difficult time to be a writer. I learned, however, how physically demanding it is to sit and write at a computer. I also learned that I am pretty easily stressed out and that has a profound effect on my body–like enough to lead to days of mind-numbing, labour-like nerve pain. So, it was great that I had friends that would force me, often against my instincts, to go out and walk or sit outside in the sun. Eventually, I could go out and dance, ride my bike, and swim. It is still hard for me to take the time to do all of these things as often as I should (which is ironic since I was once both a competitive runner and a yoga teacher), but I am learning and the mental space in doing it is beautiful.
Next week you will get to hear from my friend and very talented writer, Allison Gruber. Allison Gruber’s prose and poetry have appeared in a number of literary journals, and in the anthology Windy City Queer: Dispatches from the Third Coast. Additionally, her plays have been produced in both Milwaukee and Chicago. Her first book, a collection of autobiographical essays entitled, You’re Not Edith will be published by George Braziller, Inc., a division of W.W. Norton & Co., in February 2015. She holds an MFA in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and teaches in Wisconsin.