OK, Fine, Twist My Arm, I’ll Talk About Writing: The Writing Process Blog Tour

Even though I’m a writer–maybe BECAUSE I’m a writer–I don’t usually blog about writing. But when my friend and writing/publishing mentor Iris Graville invited me to take part in a Writing Processblog tour she joined through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program, I was thrilled to say yes.

(Therefore you too WILL BE THRILLED to read the results–got that?)

What am I working on? Having just published my first YA/tweens novel, The Flying Burgowski, earlier this year, I am dividing my writing time now between promotion & distribution (not very fulfilling) and finishing the final draft of the sequel, The Flying Burgowski Disaster (extremely fulfilling).

Like thousands of other writers, I have learned in the past couple of years to quit whining about the challenges of independently publishing, a.k.a. taking responsibility for one’s own marketing and distribution. I’m still astounded at how a batch of phone calls and emails relating to author readings/book signings, or questions about consignment, can eat up an entire morning! But I try to stay grateful for the opportunity to do this at all.

In the Brave New World of publishing, the Big Scary Gatekeepers have lost their power. Or, looked at another way: I am now my own big scary gatekeeper. Let’s just say I have learned a great deal, but have a long way to go before achieving my Masters in Gate-ology.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? The Flying Burgowski is a coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist. Like Harry Potter, or like Stephen Messer’s Windblowne or Joni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest, the heroine, Jocelyn Burgowski, discovers that she has special powers. Joss can fly! But unlike those novels–in fact, unlike nearly every other YA fantasy novel I have read, The Flying Burgowski is set very much in the real world.( I suppose I could draw a parallel with the Twilight series in that respect, but the similarity ends there. Oh, wait, no–my book is set in Washington State as well. But that’s IT. No vampires, sparkly or un-. And no sexy werewolves.)

I greatly admire authors who can build effective fantasy worlds. I lost myself in Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’s books at a young age, and I am a thoroughly unapologetic Potterhead. But I find more personal meaning and challenge in imagining how one might deal with magic in THIS world. Kids these days have some pretty awful issues to deal with, and so does my heroine. How does a superpower help or hinder the scaling of an obstacle like, for example, an alcoholic parent? That’s what I’m interested in.

I should add here that Victoria Forester’s middle-grades novel, The Girl Who Could Fly, is nominally set in the real world. But that world is drawn with such exaggerated characters as to be nearly fantasy, in this writer’s opinion. The Flying Burgowski’s darkness is a more recognizable, straight-from-the-news-headlines kind of darkness. That said–it’s not a sad book! I promise it will make you laugh, no matter how old you are.

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Why do I write what I do? I did not set out to write for young adults. In fact, the first two novels I wrote–one which will remain forever in the bottom drawer where it belongs, the other which I hope to publish someday–are for adults. The Flying Burgowski story idea simply visited me one day and took me for a ride. I’m still riding. But I don’t assume I will necessarily stay in this age-group for future projects. I do love that readers are finally figuring out that YA writing can be right up there with the best, though. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have helped expand the readership. There are some great YA books out there! (Check out this Goodreads YA group to see what I mean.)

How does my writing process work? First of all, I am extremely blessed in being able to write as my part-time “job,” (along with working part-time in a bakery), since walking away from my 20-year career as a high school teacher a few years ago. In those days I had to get up at five to write for 45 minutes before leaving for school. I hated that routine, but it did produce my first rough draft. Now my kids are grown and gone, and I am financially able to do what I want for the most part–a blessing for which I am unendingly grateful.

Secondly, I am married to the most wonderful man, who created a Writing Barn for me. Well, it’s the upstairs half of a barn; he gets the downstairs for his shop. But up there I have a large, mostly empty space with cedar walls, a little decorative pottery, a toilet, a hot-water kettle for tea, and a beautiful (but not too dominating) view. Best of all: no internet! Therefore, no distractions.

It is COLD up there, especially in the winter, and since I never write for longer than 4-5 hour chunks, it’s really not worth heating all that space with the wood stove, cozy as that sounds. So I have a space heater on a timer, to pre-heat my writing spot, and…don’t laugh…I write in a sleeping bag. I’ve always written from a semi-lounge position on a bed or sofa, so the sleeping bag fits right in.

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I always start by reading aloud what I wrote the day before. Then I pick up from there. If I get stuck on an issue of plot or character development, I go back to my Outline page and just blah-blah-blah as though I were having a conversation with myself. Though it’s tempting to delete the blah-blah-blah from the outline after I’ve solved it, I leave it there as a reminder of my thinking process. It usually comes in handy thinking through the next snag.

Next week the Writing Process Blog Tour continues with another writer I admire. Shan Jeniah Burton lives a passionately playful life filled with lovely chaos, intertwined with her chef husband,  two endlessly fascinating children who keep outgrowing their clothes, and a rotating cast of furry companions.  She’s traveled the country, and counted among her backyards the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Everglades, only to settle on the same sleepy country road in upstate New York where she grew up.  She is particularly fond of words and dreams, imagery and photography, nature, history, music, and fictional people with green blood and pointed ears. Please click here to go to Shan Jeniah’s blog, Lovely Chaos.

But, as always, I love hearing from my own dear readers. Can you relate to my writing process? How does it compare with yours, or the one you hope to have someday?

7 thoughts on “OK, Fine, Twist My Arm, I’ll Talk About Writing: The Writing Process Blog Tour

    • Michelle, it’s not personal, and thanks for asking. My husband and I decided to move to Lopez Island when he retired (he’s 15 years older than I am) and our youngest went off to college. There’s a public school here, a WONDERFUL one, but I had been trying for several years to balance teaching and writing, and was finding it very frustrating. So I decided to keep my certificate valid, but to step away from teaching for a couple of years to be a full-time writer/baker. So far I find I am able to drive past the school without too much difficulty. I have turned down requests to sub or tutor, though, because I know myself too well…I would be sucked back in in an instant, and then I’d be right back to struggling to find time to write.
      I miss the kids very much, but I’m in touch with about 100 former students on facebook, plus I have a 6th grade “mentee” (Little Sister sort of thing) with whom I meet weekly, so I get my kid fix. I do NOT miss: bringing essays or projects home every single weekend; whiny colleagues; faculty meetings.
      Also–excited about this–tomorrow I’m meeting w/ 4 teenagers I’ve recruited to do a dramatic reading with me next week for my book launch party!

      Hmm. Writing all this makes me think there may be a blog post in there…:).

      • That’s awesome, Gretchen. Sounds like it was a tough decision. But writing is so fulfilling, isn’t it? After getting my degree, I subbed and tutored for seven years but never actually took a class of my own. The plan all along was to stop teaching when I had kids, which I did when my second one was born, so I never actively pursued the full time job. As a result, sometimes I feel sort of like I was never a “real” teacher. However, my training is coming in handy now that I’m homeschooling two of my kids. My middle one is dyslexic and he’d be lost in a classroom. It’s been an absolutely thrill to see him start to read, though it’s still a struggle every day. The youngest one chose to come back from public school. That’s fine for now. I’ll boot him out again in junior high or high school. 🙂

        Now that my kids are more independent, I’ve been able to really start digging in with my writing the last two years, and I’ve found that I want to pursue THIS, not teaching. I don’t want to go back! I want to write! But now is the testing period to see if I can really make enough money at it to put kids through college. So far…not.

  1. Someday, I want to come see your barn. it’s lovely, and I’m not laughing. =)

    I loved reading about your process. Again, we definitely have things in common, as well as some delightful differences.

    As for what those are; you’ll have to wait till next week! =)

  2. Thanks, Michelle! I can sure relate to that, “Oh boy, I’ve found my calling” feeling in regards to writing. Now if one could only make it PAY. As I’ve noted, my husband’s retired (from a well-paying professorship), so we are super-fortunate not to have to depend on my paltry bakery income. I shall probably lose money publishing books for some time before I make any. 🙂 You, on the other hand, are well on your way!

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