On the Writing Process

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 10

Back when I was in graduate school, I would go to these “speed mentoring” sessions that were held during our big annual conference (aka, American Psychological Association Convention). I attended these sessions seeking sage wisdom from prominent Counseling Psychologists who had found success in their careers. I was steadily working toward earning my doctorate at the time, and I desperately wanted to land a faculty position at a university where I could conduct research and train graduate students. Knowing these academic jobs are hard to come by, I felt like I needed all the advice and help I could get. So, off I’d go to these mentoring sessions each year during the conference. Picture “speed dating” but with no alcohol, no flirting, and only “talking shop.”

One of the kernels of wisdom that has stuck with my all these years later is this: Think of yourself as a writer. Yes, you will be teaching and doing research as part of your faculty position, but your main task will be writing. You must embrace an identity as a writer.

What incredible advice this was for me as I was making my way professionally. I did land a faculty position, and I recently earned tenure and was promoted. I’ve achieved these milestones in large part because of my research productivity which translates to my writing. In order to get my research out there and be published in scientific journals, I’ve had to seriously hone my writing skills and dedicate myself to regular writing. Indeed, I’ve had to embrace an identity as a writer.

600-Color_Journal-Lilies-Mug_rsInterestingly during this time, my life has expanded. Cancer came to my door and I had a wake-up call. My life reached a turning point and I had to ask myself what I wanted, truly wanted, from my “once around.” That’s when I made the conscious decision to dive into photography. And in launching Life Refocused, I plunged into a different type of writing than I’d ever really engaged in before. My identity as a writer broadened. I was no longer only writing for scientific and research purposes, I was writing for myself and for you.

A lovely series on people’s writing processes has been making its way around the blog-o-sphere of late. I’ve read with great interest about how and why some of my favorite writers get their words out into the world. So I was very happy when my dear friend and Tribe sister, Emily, tapped me to be next in the series. Emily is a brilliant, funny, and heart-filled writer. She has a memoir or two in her and I can’t wait to see her birth those books. Thanks for tagging me in this awesome series, Em.

Here are the questions and my responses (as they are true for me today).

What am I working on?
As I write this post, I’m holed up in the mountains of Colorado working on a book proposal. In this year that I worked on 365 IMPOSSIBLE Self-Portraits, a book began germinating in my heart and soul. Stories and experiences from my life came rushing in day by day as I shot these self-portraits. I decided I couldn’t ignore these stories, nor could I hide the intimate self-portrait work I’ve done. Thus, I’m working on creating a book that is memoir meets instant self-portrait photography.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not sure there is a specific “genre” for my current book project. That is both terrifying and exhilarating! Of course, many people write about their lived experiences and many share their beautiful photography. I hope that my work here at Life Refocused — both the writing and photography — brings an honesty and vulnerability that is often missing in social media and blogs. I don’t try to “pretty it all up” and spin my life as one of simplicity and ease and only beautiful things. I try to convey the fullness of my experience, the ups and downs, the triumphs and the swirling.

Why do I write what I do?
I write for myself and I write for you. First, I write to figure myself out. To understand the emotions in my heart, the swirling in my brain, the angst in my stomach. I write to unravel the mystery of who I truly am and of my experiences. I write to let go, to not hold on to it all. I write to show up and reveal my Self to me. And in doing that, in coming to some understanding — no matter how small — I want to share it so that maybe someone else understands herself/himself a little bit better. I write to connect with our common humanity, the feelings and longings and thoughts we all experience. I write to feel less alone and to (hopefully) help others feel less alone.

How does my writing process work?
Hmmm. Well, first, I need quiet. I’m not someone who can write (or read) with any music or other distractions. My brain just isn’t that good and can’t handle the stimulation. When I’m writing for Life Refocused, I write at home. I do “morning pages” most days and while I don’t intend to birth a blog post there in my Moleskine, it often happens that way. My journaling to understand myself naturally spills into something I want to share here with you. Other times, a photograph I’ve taken awakens me to a story or experience I want to share. And then there are the experiences or feelings that churn in me, that echo in my head, and I know I need to write to free them.

As for the nitty-gritty, I read and re-read my writing. Even a blog post. I was the copy editor for my high school newspaper and I hate typos and editing mistakes. So, I read and re-read my writing to eliminate those errors to the best of my ability. It’s also important to me that my photography matches and reflects what I’m writing. Thus, I’m very selective in what image I share with my words. I also don’t usually hit “publish” as soon as I’m done writing. I typically schedule my posts so that they go live the next day. Oftentimes, once I’ve written a post and scheduled it to publish the next day or so, I think of something else I want to add. I then come back and add to what I’ve written. That space between scheduling the post and it going live gives me a little cushion that I need for my brain to reflect back just a bit more to add a finishing touch or a missing piece.

Last, I read and respond to every comment that someone takes the time to share. As I said, I write for me and I write for you. When someone takes a moment out of her/his overly-scheduled and busy life to share a comment with me, I treasure it and I respond in kind. I live for community and connection, and comments on my writing give me just that.

*****

I’m thrilled to pass off this writing process series to Meredith Winn, aka CameraShyMomma. Meredith is an incredible photographer and talented writer. She is an astute observer of life, of love, and of relationships. Her words often reverberate within me throughout the day. Meredith will be picking up this baton next Monday, but in the meantime, dive into her website to bathe in her words and images.

Meredith Winn is a freelance writer, tintype photographer, and Associate Editor of Taproot Magazine. She lives off-grid with her partner and a trio of boys in the western Maine foothills. She weaves stories from truth and optical illusions from images. Working from the darkroom in her yurt, she greets history where silver and light meet to create handcrafted ferrotypes. Meredith’s work can be found in a variety of publications and galleries. Find more of her work at her website.

MWinn square bio headshot

10 Responses

  1. Lindsey says:

    Oh, yes. The swirling. I know it well and I try to write about it (well, to be honest, I can’t avoid writing about it – it’s less a choice than a default) also. So glad you’re out here in the ether and thank you for putting such beautiful words and images out into the world. I’m certainly enriched by them. xox

    • Meghan says:

      Thank you, Lindsey. Yes, we all have the swirling, whether we write about it or not. I’m fortunate to read your words that capture it so well. Thank you for your support, friend. xo

  2. Emily says:

    I knew you would not disappoint when I passed this series on to you. The care and nurturing of yourself and process shines through in your words and your photographs. I can’t wait until this book of yours is wildly successful (however you choose to define success) as no one deserves the recognition more.

    • Meghan says:

      Oh, Em, thank you! Your words bolster me in more ways than you know. Much love, friend, and thank you for tagging me in this beautiful series on writing. xo

  3. Meghan, I so resonate with that need for quiet, for the slow halting process that brings words to the page, followed by the intensity of revision until everything is just so. It all takes so much longer than anyone imagines. (And I’m always certain that it takes ME longer than it takes anyone else.) So, your post hits home for me and makes me feel less alone. Lovely!

    • Meghan says:

      Katrina–thank you for taking the time to comment here! I’m glad to hear you have a similar process of quiet and intense revision. And all this time, I thought it was just ME who took forever in the writing process. Here’s to feeling less alone together. xo

  4. […] timing seemed to provide this as a good practice for me, an exercise in examination. so, thank you, Meghan, for thinking of […]

  5. […] both of which I’m very much enjoying. As I am writing and working on my own book project for 365 Impossible Self-Portraits, I’m really wanting to immerse myself in more memoir. It is helpful and fascinating to see […]

  6. […] I want to build for myself. I’m making plans for how and when I want to spend my time — writing my book, working on research manuscripts, teaching class, meeting with students, yoga, lunches/walks/happy […]

  7. […] I hope you check out the article and photos. My hope is to build momentum from this published piece to push on with writing and working on 365 Impossible Self-Portraits. […]

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