My Writing Process

I’m taking part in a blog tour of other writers who talk about their writing process.  Sarah Wells, a poet and fellow grad student who’s studying Creative Nonfiction, asked me to participate.  Sarah and I know each other from our blogs, but we also send each other our writing once a month, and this week I get to meet her for real at The Festival of Faith and Writing.

But first, some questions about my writing process:

1. What am I working on?

I am working on finishing up my thesis for graduation, which means I have about 100 pages of writing I need to put together for June. I’m doing a few essays and one large piece that I suppose could be a book someday.  At my last residency, I turned in everything that I thought was “thesis ready,” and in that packet I had two large pieces that I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete before June.  One has to do with Ivan Mestrovic’s sculptures, specifically at Notre Dame, Jesse’s work with hurricanes, and an incident involving a few football players that threw Jesse’s bike in the bushes.  My other piece has to do with high school and Drill Team and two friends of mine.  I decided to work on the high school story for the next two months.  I really hope I return to the other one though.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

At my last residency, there was a discussion about books being in dialogue with other books and I really like that idea.  I don’t think I know enough about my writing to say how it differs from others in Creative Nonfiction. However, I love thinking that I am in a conversation with the stories I love when I write. It’s not that I’m trying to write just like those authors, it’s more that I am showing what I learned about myself and the world because of their words, and hey look here’s how I see the world because of your story.

3. Why do I write what I do?

When I was in elementary school, there was a story that I told over and over again; for years.  It was a true story, though I embellished it the more I told it, and one day a friend of mine who had heard the silly tale for about five years straight said, “I swear Callie, that story gets better every time you tell it.” She was being flip, but I can remember the exact spot I was when she said it: at the corner of Jackson and Ridgeland on my way home from Longfellow Elementary school.  And I thought, “You know? She’s right. It DOES get better every time I tell it!”  I’m pretty sure she was the one who first pointed me to writing, even if it was indirectly.

That feeling is sort of the basis for anything I write. I like to sit with things. For a long time. I like to tell stories over and over again.

4. How does my writing process work?

Well, since I’m going to work on my high school piece, I’ll use some specifics of what I plan on doing for that, and then share some general things I do to keep writing.  First, I will have David McGlynn’s book A Door In the Ocean close by.  He was in Santa Fe last year and showed us how to outline a book we love so that we can learn from it and apply that to our own stories, and that’s what I plan on doing with his book. (An aside – my swimmer and water polo friends – and you know who you are, I think  you would love this book.)

Second, I will listen to a lot of dance music and probably watch a lot of old Drill Team tapes to try and capture some of the scenes I want to write about.  I also think it’d be good to take a notebook to the classes I go to at the gym because I get a lot of ideas about dance when I’m working out.  But that means I’ll have to stop working out to write notes and I don’t want to do that, so it’s probably not something I’ll actually do.

Ideally, I write for two hours every day. That’s about all I can manage before I want to throw myself out of the window.  I make myself sit in a chair and only allow myself coffee.  Sometimes I might eat gummy bears. Gobstoppers work well, too.  But no real eating because I cannot eat and write.  I try to stay away from alcohol when I write because even though he had substance abuse problems, Truman Capote said on the Dick Cavett show that you can’t drink and write so I don’t do it because I love Truman Capote. Or maybe it’s that I love Dill Harris. Either way, I don’t usually drink while I’m writing. Of course, Hemingway said it was fine to drink during drafting but not during revision.  He and I went to the same high school so maybe that should be my rule, because OPRF alumni have to stick together.

I write everything out on paper until I think I have some sort of working draft then I type it, print it out, and use a different color ink to begin revising. The way I write is a terrible waste of paper. It is bad for the environment.  I’m not looking for suggestions on how to do it more efficiently. I love paper and pens and weep when I hear talk of a paperless society. I’m sorry if you’ve been offended. Maybe this is a good time to tell you I don’t always recycle.

So there’s a little bit about how  I write and what I write.  Later this week, Wendy Besel Hahn will be answering these questions.  She is a fellow Listen to Your Mother cast mate and has written a book along with earning an MFA from George Mason University.  Be sure to come back here on Friday to read her thoughts on writing.  And make sure to stop by Jessica Rapisarda’s blog, Welcome to the Bundle another LTYM cast mate who also holds an MFA in Creative Writing.  Jessica is one of the funniest writers out there, so I’m sure you’ll be entertained when you read what she has to say (no pressure, Jessica).

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15 Responses to My Writing Process

  1. Sarah Wells says:

    Love! Sooooo excited to see you in person this week!

  2. Sara McDaniel says:

    I love your writing because you seem like a real person instead of that important person I know you are. Thanks for introducing me to other great blog writing, too! Maybe, I should thank Alison because she helped me find you!

  3. It’s so awesome to learn more about your writing ambitions and processes, Callie! Each of your projects sounds so awesome, and unique. So, um, would you think less of me if I were to tell you some of the favorite things of mine I’ve written were done at 11:30pm with wine? That’s really bad, right? I go back and edit though. Usually.
    PS – SO LOVED meeting you Saturday night. We’re going to have one powerful show.

    • calliefeyen says:

      Thanks, Kristi! And NO, I don’t think less of you at all! Actually, I think it’s probably what gives us the guts to write some of that harder stuff.

      I agree – our show is going to be fantastic. I can’t wait. Our dinner beforehand was a blast, too!

  4. Tonia Halley says:

    You do have a great voice in all of your writing.

  5. Tonia Halley says:

    You do have a great voice in all of your writing. You certainly are getting to know other writers as well. Enjoy the festival!

  6. Michele says:

    Great post – I love the idea of really thinking through the writing process. And no judgment here about what snacks help get you through (though I hope when you go for gummy bears, they are the good Haribo ones). Do you hand write your blogs before you post them, too?

    • calliefeyen says:

      Oh, ONLY the Haribo ones! They’re the best.
      I usually hand write my blog posts, unless they are the “Around Here” or “Right Now” posts. Those are pretty easy for me to think through. :)

  7. Jessica says:

    You only allow yourself coffee while you write? And you write longhand? And the tremors don’t make your work totally illegible? I am utterly impressed with your routine. Being a mama is hard work. Being a mama who goes to graduate school and still writes for 2 hours a day is just showing off. And then you write so beautifully. And, yet, I still like you. Just one of life’s mysteries, I guess.

  8. alison says:

    i hope that when it’s time to watch those old drill team scenes, you pop a VHS into your VCR. you haven’t upgraded those, have you? and while i can hardly stand to write much by hand anymore because for me it’s about speed and legibility (which apparently don’t go hand in hand), i do still love the feel of the perfect pen on a nice lined piece of paper… proud of you, girl!

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