Learning my Writing Process

I was a poet for the first ten years of my writing life. Then I started writing poems that, according to my writing group friend, made better stories than poems. And she was right. I began to write a memoir with no idea what I was doing and little confidence that I could do it. Nevertheless, I persisted. Almost ten years later (I hate to count, really) I have a memoir manuscript that I am shopping around.

[Aside: “Shopping around” is a breezy term that hardly captures a great deal of internet research and baring your writerly heart to strangers who will ghost you or—even worse—see your writerly heart and send you an exquisitely polite and well-thought-out rejection letter.]

While I endure the process of looking for an agent, I have begun another project. Beginning a prose project (a book? a series of essays? we’ll see) looks very different now than it did ten years ago. Although my early drafts are still brutally terrible and I stumble along in confusion, I now have a tiny thread of confidence. (Not a lot of confidence, let’s not be hasty.) This time I know that if I persist, I will have a piece of writing that I can show to another person.

Let me quantify that. It took me four months of researching and writing two hours a day before I showed up to my full-time job to write 10,000 words that eventually became a 3000-word essay. There are more efficient ways to write and live, but this is my way.

How much ink do you waste use to make a shining final draft?

(Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash)


Marie Curie’s Kitchen

At some point (maybe around 2010 or so), I read Obsessive Genius by Barbara Goldsmith, and it changed my writing life. This was a book not just about Marie Curie’s accomplishments, it was also about how a poor Polish woman became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. There was all the domestic detail a nosy writer could ask for about how she managed her life and her work.

The personal lives of scientists became my new interest. How did one woman become a successful scientist in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while another woman became merely a woman who knew more about science than her peers? It was place, education, and encouragement. It was class, ambition, and personality. It was all fascinating.

“Marie Curie’s Kitchen” began its life as an idea. I was in the early twenty-first century still trying to kill the Angel in the House, Virginia Woolf’s specter of domesticity. I had a sink full of dirty dishes and poems to write. What did Marie Curie’s kitchen look like? was my rebellious thought.

The idea became a poem, and then a few years later it became prose. My friend encouraged me to submit a piece to Flashback Fiction, a journal of historical flash fiction. It never occurred to me that I could write fiction. However, a slightly fictional interpretation of real-life events I thought I could manage. Evidently the editors thought so too. Today you can read “Marie Curie’s Kitchen” up at Flashback Fiction.

What’s your favorite personal detail about a historical figure?




Memoir, Uncategorized

Dad Jokes

There is a joke my father used to love to tell.

There’s an astronomer, a mathematician, and an engineer walking through a field in Scotland. They see a black sheep on a hill in front of them. The astronomer looks at the sheep and declares, “I conclude there are many black sheep in all of Scotland.” The mathematician shakes his head disapprovingly and says, “I conclude there is at least one black sheep in all of Scotland.” The engineer shakes her head and says, “I conclude that the sheep is black on the side facing us.”

When I was a kid, he explained it to me, and I didn’t get it. In my twenties, I got it, but didn’t think it was funny. Now, I both get it and think it’s funny.

The engineer can only swear to that which she can verify for sure. You don’t want to build a bridge assuming the pilings are thick enough. You want to measure, design, and plan to be sure. This is how copyeditors look at the words they are paid to edit. Is there a period there? There should be a period there. But is it actually there? Would you bet your paycheck on it?

All day I read scientific papers that might as well had been in a foreign language for all I understand them. This lack of comprehension means there is nothing to distract me from how these sentences are constructed. Eventually I become familiar with the vocabulary and although I do not know what the words mean, I learn what part of speech they are, how they tend to be used in a sentence and how they fit together. I am a structural engineer of language.

Do you think the joke is funny?