Thursday, September 4, 2014
Writing Process Blog Tour
My friend, marvellous poet K.T. Landon, asked me to contribute to this blog tour.
1) What are you working on?
A book based on my journals from the two-plus years I spent in Peace Corps Korea. The place is popping up 40 years later, in a couple of personal essays about Maine (!). I’m not sure why it’s bothering me now, but I’m finding out.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I mostly work on familiar essays, in which I take common subjects in nature and see what happens if I let my imagination go. I suppose this is nature writing, which puts me in a category often too revered or too reviled. I try to avoid those extremes: the pathetic fallacy, for example, which is deadly (and which has been done without peer by Thoreau anyway) or too much outdoors ecstasy, which lasts only seconds in the first place and in the second place, writing about it is rather like writing about music. So I try to get facts in there, and connections to the world in general and me in particular, and maybe a bit of a narrative. Therefore, I greatly admire writers like Annie Dillard and Robert Finch.
3) Why do you write what you do?
In spite of the above, I’m entranced with the natural world, especially the shores and hills and forests and rivers of Maine. Much of my writing has an environmental focus and is a natural extension of the volunteer work I do with a land trust. Persuasion is my game, the trick being to avoid preaching, which as a recovering Calvinist I have to fight all the time. I’m convinced that we forsake our genetic and spiritual connections to nature at our great peril.
4) How does your writing process work?
Since I split my life between Massachusetts and Maine, I have different routines. In Maine, I’m a morning writer (assuming no land trust duties), two to three hours between breakfast and lunch, usually in my JFK rocker in the living room, but increasingly – one does get older, one is allowed – on the couch. The view is of Penobscot Bay in either case. I usually start by reading and revising what happened the day before (turn off the Internet!). Afternoons are for the body: errands, meetings, gardens, naps. In Massachusetts the routine is reversed (I don’t know why) but there I also take over the living room (thanks, honey!). I write on the computer, since my hand crashes cursive.
A new familiar subject gets basic Internet research first, then I let the notes and facts and trends ferment for a day or two. Connections start to pour off. If I do have any talent, that’s it, seeing connections to philosophy and religion and daily life and memories and last night’s nightmare and this morning’s daydream. I believe in a kind of ecology of poetics – everything is connected, dependent, related – in which the crux of art is to pursue only what’s important, or to put it another way, to understand which mutations of our ecosystems might last. Far too often, however, I diverge like crazy, seeing too many connections, tending to write them all down, deleting, restoring, and trying to make them dance together. When I can no longer see the dance for the dancers, I give it to my editor and she rescues the set.
Finally, I should say that a daily walk is essential to the process. Sometimes I don’t think in words at all, just images, in the eye or in the brain, of moss or surf or a Victorian painted lady or a mass of phlox along a suburban garden wall, or if I’m really lucky, a fox or deer or eagle. Mostly though, I review and regurgitate and even sometimes compose, and the ideas and sentences that survive the walk find themselves in the computer as soon as I return, ready to be taken out again tomorrow.