I was super excited to be asked to write for the Gloria Sirens. I was given choices, and I chose writing about writing because I thought it would be easiest. Not quite.
We’re all curious about how other writers work—do they write every day? In the morning, the night? With coffee, dead drunk? We scour other writers’ lives to find out where we fit or whether we’re “doing it right,” or if someone has discovered the secret balance between life and writing. I know I eagerly read the first two posts in this “blog tour,” written by Susan Lilley and Lisa Lanser Rose , curious about what these writers do to sustain a writing life. What I’ve come to suspect, though, is this: we’re all doing it right, none of us has found the secret, and what we are finding is community. So in the spirit of the blog tour and fostering community,
my answers to three writing questions:
What are you working on?
All the things! I can’t seem to have only one project going at a time. The Chairman of my department at USF-St Pete calls me genre-promiscuous. I think I’m afraid something won’t get into the world at all if I don’t at least start it. So I’ve got various projects in various conditions:
I’m working on a novel based on one of my plays, that’s based on a screenplay I wrote, that’s based on a one-act I wrote, that’s based on a conversation I had about murder ballads with a musician at Lounge Ax in Chicago (I left Chicago in ‘98—Lounge Ax closed in 2000). No one can say I don’t thoroughly explore an idea. I just finished the first draft, and I’ve created a pile of index cards for further research.
I also put out a zine based on a screenplay I wrote called Kissing the Lepers. I work on it about twice a year, just before the Tampa and St. Pete zine fests. So far the issues are: Monkeys in the Kitchen, Dad and the Hunters, and Strangers in the Road. Next up: The Party—and I need to get cracking because the next zine fest is in Tampa on July 12.
Not based on anything old: I’m working on a mixed-genre full length work that draws its inspiration from circus. So far I’ve written a short play called, “How the Lobster Boy Disappointed Me,” which you can read here in August, and a hybrid essay called “This is the One for the Accordion and the Acrobat.” I’m currently developing three other pieces for this project—an essay about snakes and snake charmers, a play about an aged snake charmer, and a screenplay about saints and freaks and Gibsonton, Forida.
Poetry. My first love, which I’ve recently returned to. I try to read and write it in the mornings or after I volunteer with birds of prey at the Boyd Hill Nature Center.
How does your work differ from others of the genre?
Hmm. I tend to to agree with Lisa Lanser Rose in her article—that what makes it different is that I am who I am, with my background, and with my interests. Also, I think many people who keep making connections like I do and who have so many ideas end up locking themselves in an abandoned building and writing on all the walls and ceilings with a sharpie. I manage to get it down on paper. So there’s that.
Why do you write what you do?
Because I can’t help it, is my first, quick answer. But really, of course, I can. I could choose to not write at all, or I could decide to write something else I think people might like better or that might make more money. So my next answer to this question is: because I want to. Because an idea, or a setting, or a premise, or a character, or an image takes a hold of me and I want to wrestle it into words that say something to somebody somewhere and maybe change something, small or big, about the way readers perceive themselves or the world.
How does your writing process work?
In general, I binge-write. I’m an adjunct, editor and tutor, so I look for days or nights when I can sit down with one project and work and work and work on it. I like to inhabit the world of one piece of writing until I look like I stuck my finger in an electrical socket—my hair stands on end and I stop blinking. That’s when I put the writing aside and binge on Netflix instead.
I try to let a piece rest for awhile after a big work session, so I make a plan for next steps, whether that means continue on the same draft, do research notes for a new draft, etc. My plans tend to be detailed and orderly, to compensate for my mostly haphazard writing schedule. The plan lives with the project, so I know what to do next when I return to it. While one project is resting, I turn my attention to another. Rinse and repeat.
The other necessary part of writing is, of course, submission. Or “invitation to rejection,” as I sometimes call it. I try to plan submission days ahead of time, so that I’m prepared mentally and have everything I need to submit both electronically and by snail mail gathered in one place. Sometimes I come across a good opportunity on twitter or a blog, and before I have a chance to over think it, I just do a submission on the spur of the moment. I keep an excel spreadsheet where I record to whom and how I submit, as well as rejections, acceptances, and “please submit agains,” which to me fall somewhere in between. I love the idea of submission parties. No one but other writers really understands both the pride and fear that accompany submission.
So, how do you work? Any other binge-writers out there with bloodshot eyes and frazzled hair? Or have you found a secret to an orderly writing life?
Heather Jones is a writer, adjunct instructor, and literary consultant in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is the originator of Teenage Wasteland, and often works with Wordier Than Thou on literary events. You can get her plays My Unspeakable Confessions: Gala Dali Declines to Explain Herself and The Hoarder’s Child here.