Writing on the couch

I’ve been tagged by my friend Gillian Marchenko, a former student of mine and author of the memoir Sun Shine Down, to participate in the #MyWritingProcess blog hop. Writers are asked four questions about their process and then pass on the baton to a writer friend or two. This blog hop is the brain child of Carole Malone, who started it back in February of this year. Amazing that it has bounced around for this long! Here it goes for my answers:

Q: What am I working on?

I just wrapped up a big book project, a collection of list essays about Chicago, written with my longtime students at StoryStudio Chicago. I also have a picture book manuscript ready to be sent out; it’s a story that happened to my mother-in-law when she was a hidden child in France during World War II. I am in between big projects right now, and with a busy summer coming up, I am not about to embark on the next big project. I am, however, always working on a bunch of essays, and I have a couple of book reviews due to the Jewish Book Council.

Q: How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s a tough question, asking me to define my own voice! I write literary nonfiction, mainly memoir and personal essay. This kind of writing relies on mining what’s unique about myself, and thus it’s a constant journey of discovery. Some of my recently published work is from my perspective as a converted Jew (Giving Up Christmas, Kol Nidre Showed Me…, Can a Jew Love Christmas Music?). Other pieces are about my binational background and the complicated history of my family (‘Thrown Out’ of the Family Home). It amazes me that this essay, which is an excerpt from my memoir manuscript, relates a history that is unfamiliar to most readers, and yet so many readers felt that it touches on the universal emotion we have towards a house where we used to live, or in my case, where my grandparents used to live.

Q: Why do I write what I do?

I write memoir to understand. I feel that the stories of the past inform who we are and how we operate, and so understanding the past and shaping it into stories that can be passed on is important in order to understand ourselves. I write essays about memoir for the Washington Independent Review of Books to share my love for this genre, which I believe is the genre of our time, and I write personal essays to work out and share insights that hopefully are useful to a reader. Lastly, I write book reviews and author interviews to participate in the contemporary literary world and to support the work of writers I admire.

Q: How does my writing process work?

For many years, the only time I could write was early in the morning before my kids woke up and I had to go to work. Committing to getting up at 5 o’clock to write for an hour or two was the single biggest thing I did to move my writing forward and to become serious about it. These days I don’t have to rush off to a full-time job anymore, and I often manage at least one day a week that I spend on my couch, working on my creative writing on my laptop, when nobody else is at home. Revising, editing and blogging tend to happen in between, often in the late afternoon as that has always been my best time to work. I still get up early, but I now use that time to write my Morning Pages, a ritual that I have come to love enormously.

I am tagging two writer/blogger friends: 

Nancy Kopp, master of writing Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. Thank you Nancy, for not only being a great writer friend, but for also supporting my blogging efforts from the very beginning.

Kelley Clink, author of the upcoming memoir A Different Kind of Same, about losing her only brother to suicide ten years ago. Like Gillian, Kelley is a former student of mine, and I am super happy about her book coming out soon.