wondering about other writers

I’ve been enjoying the answers to Kristen’s questions for writers so decided to jump into the current of her meme and answer them. Plus, this is way more fun than cleaning my house to prepare for my mom’s arrival (sorry for the mess, Mom). Thanks to Lindsey & Nina for introducing me to Kristen and for the inspiration!

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet? (I share with my husband something that I submit elsewhere only AFTER it’s been published, and I am pretty certain he does not read my blog 90% of the time.)

My husband reads what I’ve published after the fact (when I send him the link), but I almost never give him a draft to read. He’s not into my blog; I guess he figures I’ll tell him whatever I wrote there, which is probably true. I’m a talker.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life (IRL) first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it? (Comments from my family and friends, either online or in person, are overwhelmingly rare. I’m totally fine with that, but I am curious if this is the norm for others.)

My mom and mother-in-law are fantastic editors, so I often send them drafts for feedback. My dad is one of my biggest fans, but he never got the hang of consistent web commenting so keeps his feedback to in person or over the phone. One friend IRL gives me occasional feedback, for which I am supremely grateful (thanks, Care!). None of my local friends even really know anything other than a vague notion that I “write for fun.” Now that I’ve switched the focus of my writing away from family updates and recipes, I’ve lost much of my old readership of friends and family. These days I think my readers are mostly friends I’ve cultivated online or people who had a link forwarded to them. Once a year or so, a friend who never gives feedback will shock me by saying “I’ve been reading your blog.” I’m guilty of lurking too so I don’t hold it against them. 😉

I recently was part of a 4-week free class on memoir writing that my local library sponsored, and it was so much fun. I loved the incredible rush I got from reading my work out loud and getting feedback from other writers (including a professional writing instructor), and I quickly became addicted to that feeling. When the class ended, I was despondent even though I was fine without it before it started. Once I knew what feedback could be, I craved that kind of interaction. I’m on the lookout for new writing groups in 2015.

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 plan to submit more pieces to publish in 2015, so I hope I will have the courage to keep submitting and reworking pieces that get rejected. Often I start my concepts for pieces on the blog; then if I feel like it’s something that will be good for a wider audience, I’ll transfer the article to a word document and work on it for submission elsewhere. I have trouble killing my darlings, but I am learning to take Anne Lamott’s advice that even if the first four pages were junk, sometimes you have to write them to get to that golden nugget sentence.

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?

Yes, I have written pieces for a specific place and then reworked them; often it’s not because of rejection but because the tone of the piece changes, and instead of trying to corral it I just let it be what it is. If I know a piece isn’t working, I put it in a digital folder “parking lot.” If and when I do mine it for ideas years later, it’s like reading something a different person wrote.

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

I read magazines, blogs/websites (you can find a list of what I’m reading here), and I LOVE books; like Lindsey said, I always have one on my bedside table. Today it’s fiction: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I am especially keen on non-fiction though; there are lots of essays and memoirs on my list. I love Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, and if I’m in a serious mood, David Foster Wallace. I just finished Delia Ephron’s Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog and loved it. Like Nina said, I also love audio books and podcasts (here’s a list of what I’m listening to). If you haven’t done so yet, you simply must hear Bill Bryson read one of his books. I promise you won’t regret it.

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

I get my inspiration from the oddest places sometimes. I’ve been reading an old book of children’s poetry to my kids every night that was my mom’s when she was a little girl; I find myself sprinting from their bedroom to my notebook so I can write down ideas. I learned a trick from my dad to carry pen and paper with me everywhere. Sometimes I make notes on my phone, but I’m an old dog when it comes to having a notebook; I like to dog-ear pages and refer back to them later. I always buy a red one so I can find it easily.

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

Although they are becoming more popular, I routinely find people who still don’t know the awesomeness of Maria Popova’s Internet spaces: Brain Pickings & Explore. They are a treasure trove of creative inspiration. As Nina mentioned, I am glad to see Roxane Gay is getting her due recognition, so she’ll have to come off the underappreciated list (ditto Meghan Daum and of course Lena Dunham). And I’m really hoping Alice of Finslippy and Karen of Chookooloonks take over the world.

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

I wrote a post on this topic recently. To sum it up, I’ll make the obligatory reference to Stephen King’s On Writing since you didn’t put that one on the list. 😉 Also I love every book by William Zinsser. I found Cheryl Strayed’s Write like a motherf**ker essay inspiring to say the least.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax? (Obviously we all grow as writers and looking back at our “clunkier” writing can be cringeworthy…that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean are there things you wish you hadn’t said out loud either because of what you said or how you said it. I’m not in this position right now, but some things I’d like to write about might get me there. And yet…how can I ignore those topics, you know?)

I haven’t regretted publishing anything yet, but I’m still pretty new to this writing gig. I definitely have cringed when reading some of my older blog posts, but I’ve also LOLed at myself. There are a few posts I’ve written for Natural Parents Network that received harsh criticism, particularly on Facebook, but I knew when writing them that I was walking a tightrope. For the most part I roll my eyes at the critics and move on. Naysayers gonna nay. I think it was Taylor Swift who said that.


18 thoughts on “wondering about other writers

  1. Love this. A fellow Brain Pickings fan here! And Taylor Swift too … Fun fact is Roxane Gay and I were high school classmates …

  2. So wonderful to read your answers. I really am humbled by all the participation, especially that which was generated by Lindsey’s and Nina’s readers, many of whom I’d never crossed paths with (like you!). I think it’s great that you have some close people in your back pocket to help with your writing endeavors, and I’m really excited to learn more about you and your writing. These answers are so detailed and thoughtful–love it.

  3. Justine! I know we were Twitter friends, but I’m so glad we’re blog connected now. I just added you to my bloglovin feed. These were great answers. Love Cheryl Strayed AND Steve Almond. So glad they’re doing the podcast together. Going to check out your whole podcast list now.

    1. Hi Nina, me too! Whenever I read Lindsey’s blog, I’m struck by what a thoughtful and loyal commenter you are. I look forward to being “blog connected” with you. I love Steve Almond’s work too; he’s an Arlington resident like me, so I feel lucky to be in proximity of such great local talent.

  4. Thanks to magical connections of Nina and Kristen and Lindsey, I am here loving your blog, and in particular these honest responses. Clearly I need to answer these awesome questions, but mostly I’m just enjoying reading everyone’s responses 🙂

    You know it’s funny, I started out with recipes and family updates and gradually moved into other interests and ended up changing my blog completely just a month ago, and while I’ve definitely lost some readers, I’m gaining such wonderful new ones.

    So happy to have found your blog!

    1. That IS funny! I guess the message at the heart of this lesson is being true to yourself will result in good things happening. I look forward to exploring your blog too. Thanks for making a connection!

    1. I hope you will! Among other greats, I loved his recent book, “Let’s Talk About Diabetes with Owls.” Plus you can’t beat his New Yorker articles!

      1. What got me hooked on him years ago were the short essays he’d periodically read on NPR (we’re talking 10+ years ago), and then I devoured “Me Talk Pretty Some Day.” One of his other books, I was less excited about, but I think I should add “Let’s Talk Diabetes…” to my To-Read list. Thanks for the tip!

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