December 16th, 2008

Ferry Wake

Process and Product -- 3

So, don't you think it's kinda funny that I started this little series about two weeks ago -- with an explicit promise to discuss how I manage my own process -- but since then my process has been so unmanageable that I've never been able to make that post?

I'm hoping that most of you are thinking, "Yep. I feel your pain, sister."

But those of you who aren't? 
Who have tidy little tick marks all over your to-do lists and bedtimes that are within the realm of reason?
Could you do me a favor and not mention it?

'Cause part of how I manage my process is to reassure myself that I am not alone, that I have many companions on the bumpy, root-ridden, overgrown trails I'm trying to negotiate. A stubbed toe's not so bad if a friend is there to laugh when I kick the tree that caused it. And if I can recognize that the utter sense of order and consistent clarity I think I see in other people's work and lives is illusory -- that we all step, step, step and sometimes misstep -- it becomes evermore feasible for me to move forward myself, without crazy expectations but with a sense of hope.

Number one on my list of "things I do to survive manage my process" is to sustain a sense of community.
Writing's a lonely affair -- solitary and mostly quiet, though some days I can listen to some kinds of music while I work.
It's exceedingly comforting to know that I have my best gals, my husband and my sis, my writer chums and the voices in the blogosphere, to serve as soundingboards and stepping stones along the way.

Number two, I diversify.
While I understand the call to "write full time," I've always needed to sprawl and range a little bit.

So first-off, I had kids.
Well, okay, that had a little something to do with love, optimism and body clocks -- I didn't really give birth just to broaden my daily portfolio. But I do relish the work at their school and the planning of slumber parties and the reading aloud at bedtime. Partly because it's all such luscious pleasure, for and with these amazing little people who happen to be my daughters, but also because of the perspective it offers me.

I cannot lose myself in the one tight room of my work.
Even if I sometimes want to.

And when I am in that room, I have my teaching and my blogging and my poetry and, always, more than one children's book project going at all times. I do not want to know what would happen to my sanity or social standing if I woke up one day with nothing to do.

Next, I ensure a little immediate gratification.
No need to recount here the glacial pace that is publishing, particularly picture book publishing.
The amount of time that one might wait for a submission to be responded to or a contract to arrive or a manuscript to become a book.
Suffice it to say, longer than you might think.

I need, sometimes, to put stuff out there immediately, to declare something finished and even, on a good day, to realize connection that way.
To be received.

There are lots of ways to do this.
Writing letters to my grandparents used to do the trick.
Blogging is pretty darn satisfying, too...

Fourth, I continue to develop, explore and expand.
Honestly, if my process grew stagnant I would never sell a thing and, plus, I'd pull all my hair out.
Which would hurt, since it's already so curly and tangly anyway.

In order to grow my craft I read. A lot.
And I go to conferences and retreats when I get the chance.
I absorb all that I can from other writers.
I practice new things.
I dare to suck.
And I teach.
Which, ironically or not, is what keeps me on my tippy-toes more than anything else.
Trying to answer questions honestly and with depth is a very good way to begin to embody those answers myself.

And finally, I have faith.
Bearing in mind that that word makes some folks a little nervous.

But honestly, it is my faith that there are more ideas where that one came from...
that I will find the right words in this deep, dark forest of choices...
that there are editors and librarians and teachers and parents and children waiting for those words...

It is my faith in all of those things that keeps me coming back to my desk again and again and again.

To write.
Which is really, if you shave all this other stuff away, the heart of the process.