The Writer Tag and Blog Hop, or: My writing process, complete with a robin in the garden

I find it endlessly fascinating to know about other writers’ processes, so I am pretty pleased with the current Writer Tag and Blog Hop that’s going on! I get to read everyone else’s trade secrets and decide which ones I want to steal–and so do you!

You also get to look at some photos of a robin who’s been hanging around my garden this fall, so that you are not intimidated by a wall of text. Some of my best writing days recently have included looking out into my garden and seeing this little guy. Having natural light is really important to me as a writer, and I feel super blessed that my writing desk faces a window into our garden.

Some of my best writing days recently have included looking out into my garden (my writing desk is directly facing our patio windows) and seeing this robin.
Look at how regal he is next to one of my surviving petunias!

I like, too, that this blog hop not only lets me collect new ideas from other writers, but also makes me consciously articulate the way my own process works: so thank you to my dear friend, Jeffrey Ricker, for asking me to participate!

If you don’t know Jeffrey yet, then I can happily introduce him to you as one of the kindest guys I know. He’s the type of guy who pretends to hate humanity but only because he cares so genuinely about all the horrible things that happen on this earth and wishes it would just stop. It’s this unapologetic earnestness and bravery that I love most about his work. A recent Lambda Literary Fellow and MFA graduate from UBC, Jeffrey is a two-time novelist and a wonderful short story writer. Jeffrey is an excellent consumer of poutine and chocolate (separately, of course), and although he’s back living in St. Louis he still helps out with Swoon, my Vancouver-based reading series on love and desire.

Because so much of the fun of this blog hop is that it’s such a great opportunity for readers and writers to learn about new writers, I’m tagging another good friend, Joelle Barron. She read at last April’s Swoon event and recently won the Malahat Review’s Open Season Award for Poetry, although she also writes spellbinding fiction and nonfiction. I should probably stop defining my friends based on what they like to eat and drink but I still find Joelle’s excellent taste in tea and cookies to be noteworthy. I’m looking forward to reading Joelle’s musings on the writing process so I can adopt any of her writing habits that involve the aforementioned cookies and tea.

Now, onto the questions!

Robin 3

1.) What am I working on?

I’m working on several things at once, with varying amounts of productivity. My poetry manuscript, The Brightest Thing, dramatizes devoiced princesses from fairy tales and explores the challenges of the contemporary search for true love. I began the manuscript as my MFA thesis (although, if I’m honest, it was germinating for much longer than that) and I’ve been fiddling with it for a good year since then, so it is pretty much complete, with the exception of a couple difficult poems I want to finish writing to fill in some gaps.

I also keep writing all these other poems that I don’t think I’ll be folding into The Brightest Thing, so I suppose I’m collecting those poems for my second collection.

Right now, though, I am especially busy with an exciting, secret collaborative project that I can’t tell you about yet! But trust me, it is really exciting.

Strike that. Make that two secret exciting projects. Yikes! When I write it all out like this, I understand why I feel like I’m so busy all the time. And excited!

I’m also slowly gathering together a collection of children’s poetry and even more slowly plugging away at some fiction. With so many projects competing for my attention, I am never bored.

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

I agree with friends Jeffrey Ricker and Seirra Sky Gemma that this question is a bit pompous-sounding, and I’m not quite sure how to answer it. The bulk of my work is in the tradition of contemporary lyric poetry. I’m quite interested in narrative. I also write a lot of dramatic monologues. I’m really engaged by unique or unheard voices, and I’m especially compelled by strong imagery. I love metaphor. If my work is different from others of its genre, I’d like to think that it is especially honest. I’ve been told before that my work is emotionally honest, and I would like to believe that that is true, because it’s important to me.

Robin 4

3.) Why do I write what I do?

Because I want to, because I need to, because I want to help make the world a better place and writing is the best way I know how. It sounds hopelessly naïve and romantic of me, but I want to help spread the word that love—despite how perverted it can get, how it can be twisted and harmful—is above all a positive, healing force. I want to expose the fact that the fairy tale isn’t true—and that it is. (You can actually read more about some of my preoccupations with writing in my Q&A with CBC about my dramatic monologue, “Ophelia, Attending a Garden on the Ground Gloor of a Vancouver Apartment Building.”)

Another big reason why I write is probably because my mother used to read to me and my brother every night before bed, and I have yet to encounter an activity that’s quite as much fun as sharing stories with others.

4.) How does my writing process work?

I’m not quite sure how my writing process works. Sometimes, I just feel in the mood to write and without having a specific idea that urges me to sit down at my desk I can sit down and just start writing. Most of the time, though, I’ll get an idea for a poem—an image, a turn of phrase, a glimpse of a memory—and then I’ll jot it down (in a little palm-sized notebook I carry with me everywhere) and attend to it as soon as possible. I try to listen to what the poem (or story) wants, though: sometimes, I’ll get the idea for something but I’ll somehow know it’s not ready for the actual putting-words-on-the-page stage and so I’ll wait for weeks or sometimes months and let it gestate. I do quite a bit of my composing inside my head; road trips are really good for this. I love being a passenger in a car, staring out the window, connecting images and ideas together.

Oh my goodness how can you not love this little guy? That little feather sticking out? Too cute.
Oh my goodness, how can you not love this little guy? That little feather sticking out? Too cute.

When I am actually sitting in front of my computer and writing something, I prefer to work in long, uninterrupted periods of times. A full, commitment-free day is best, or an evening home alone when I’ve already eaten dinner and the dishes are done and there are no daily chores competing for my attention. Though I’m usually most productive if I’m home alone (despite how much I love having my sweetie around), I do like having music to keep me company. 99% of my writing is done with music in the background. I’m a little embarrassed about this because I’d like to say that I can only write to really classy instrumental music but that is not true: I have a bunch of dorky, thematic playlists I’ve made for myself that speak to particular places and people and moods and the weather. Often I consciously play music that has a similar emotion to what I am writing… I have a teen angst playlist that I’ll put on if I’m writing adolescent characters, an achey mix that makes me think of rain and another for sunshine days. I’ve got a playlist for my hometown that has a healthy amount of country music on it. I’m not distracted by music lyrics as long as I’m not listening to anything too peppy. I don’t like obtrusive music, music that cannot be ignored. I like listening to music that I can slip into and out of at will. This is why I find it slightly embarrassing to admit: if I’m listening to music that can be easily ignored, then I’m probably not listening to especially good music, am I? All my musically-talented friends (not to mention my famous opera singer sister-in-law) would probably be really unimpressed with my bad taste if they knew!

Robin 6Another confession: although I do most of my composing on the computer, I still need to have a connection to the actual page, and especially in revision I print off drafts and start the revision process by marking up the pages. I also read my work out loud a lot. When a poem or story is fresh, I will often keep a copy of it with me at all times and then whenever I go for a walk by myself, I bring out the page and read it out loud, fine-tuning. I also read the work out loud a lot during its initial composition. I put my nerdy writing playlists on pause and try to find the music in the piece itself. It may be my speech arts training influencing me here, but regardless I think it’s important for a piece of writing, especially poetry, to maintain a connection to its oral literature roots.

Finally, yes, I usually keep a bar of dark chocolate by my desk. And if my sweetie is at home on a day when I’m working, he’s conscripted to fetch me tea.

Published by Ruth Daniell

Ruth Daniell is a speech arts teacher, a book editor, and an award-winning writer. Her first full-length collection of poems is The Brightest Thing (Caitlin Press, 2019). She lives in Kelowna, BC, where is at work on her second collection of poems.

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