The writer comes to the places where traces of making can actually be seen and smelled and touched expecting to be inspired and enabled, possibly even cured. Janet Malcolm
I’m convinced that anyone willing to call themselves a writer is fascinated, at times addicted, to the terror and beauty in this life. The satisfying remains of an incredible breakfast. The unsaid, yet final words. The strangers. To capture this interest involves an individual process. Some of us write alone. Some of us make lists. Some of us face the angel together, by beginning daily with 250 word practices.
But along with considering the “how” and the “why”, we would be foolish to overlook the “why not?” The self-preservation that occurs when we are not writing. How does “not writing” feed our process? Lumina Vol. XVI Blog will feature writing, literary events, art, interviews, and more, from students and faculty, all centering on process. In the bios below, our new staff have considered where they find the muse and whether the muse exists.
Your Blog Editor,
Maryann Aita --Digital Editor
Some zoologists believe that cats sleep so much because they expend so much energy in their short bursts of activity that they exhaust themselves. Or, they are so efficient in their brief time awake, they can afford to sleep. Although not always efficient, I liken my writing process to a cat’s daily routine. I write in short bursts, expelling words and ideas on a particular train of thought until they are exhausted. These bursts usually come at random, like a cat awakened from a nap, eager to chase some crumpled paper across the floor. Sometimes, I am struck by the inspiration of someone’s mannerisms or a memory jogged by a conversation. Other times, I write from dormant ideas. Because I write in bursts, I often end up with fragments and scenes, like the squares of a quilt without stitching. On days when I am short of ideas, I sew these pieces together.
Isabel Anreus - Executive Editor
I write at night. When the neighborhood is sleepy. the houses are dark, illuminated only by the hazy blue light of their televisions. Its quiet. I’m listening to another 2 Dope Queens podcast, or to the Hamilton soundtrack, again. I feel the perfect combination of envy and inspiration. I answer emails. Check Tumblr. Read an article in Jacobin. Read an article in VICE. I’m revved up. My mind is processing too many things all at once. So obviously, I write. I’m finally ready to capture that scene between the man with the crocodile boots and the girl with the pigtails and hairlip that I’ve been mulling around all week. (That’s the thing with writing, its never gone. Its always taking up space, somewhere, inside of me; waiting to pop up unexpectedly, like at line in the grocery store or when I’m pumping gas off the highway.) At first, I always write frantically, trying to throw all the words in my brain onto the page. Get that bit of dialogue down exactly the way I hear it ringing in between my ears. Then, I’ll go back and clean it up, change the adverbs to adjectives, find just the right kind of prepositional phrase. I'm always struggling to find the true intention behind each of my pieces, because without it what am I even writing for?
Rachel Aydt - Nonfiction Editor
My writing habits now are so much different that they were when I started the program last year. I suppose, in short, I would wait for inspiration to hit and try to find the essay threads occurring in my life before sitting down to them. These days, I’ve flipped it. I wake up and write most mornings, and even if I don’t know what to say (especially if I don’t), I’ll do a free write and let my mind follow any path it’s carving out. Strong coffee with milk is essential! I have friends who I’ll text and say, Hey, you want to write now? It works- we’ll gather up our forces and write and maybe share work.
Will Borger -Fiction Editor
Writing, for me, usually involves a laptop, a couch, and a drink. Usually water, but sometimes the harder stuff if it’s not coming. You have to edit more afterwards, but it works. I tend to write mostly during the middle of the day or at night. I like to go places and write, coffee shops or libraries, or outside when it’s nice. Writing with other people helps, too. You can swap stories when you get stuck and make sure what you’re doing is working for someone else. It’s also a good way to hold yourself accountable.
If I’m alone, I need noise of some kind. Music, mostly. Songs where the chorus comes right when you want it, the kind that you can tune out of easily and can tune into for a reward, the kind where you can get up and dance because the beat is infectious. I need that, especially during rough drafts. I find writing a rough draft is like taking a snarl of yarn out of your head and recreating it on paper. The first challenge is making the thing real. The second, which comes in revision, is untangling the yarn itself. That’s harder, but more rewarding.
Erica Cardwell - Blog Editor
Mornings are the best time for me to write. The path between writing and coffee needs to be short and occur at the same time for me to get started first thing. Spilling my coffee is almost mandatory at this point.
But when it gets hard, too hard to write, I cook. I find recipes that require obscure ingredients and long preparation. Kitchen labor and feeding people helps me work out the troubling kinks before I write. It has proven to be an important waltz with avoidance.
One of my favorite Latina feminists, Gloria Anzaldua said, “put your shit on paper.” Figuring out that mixture, the combination of shit and power, is what keeps me writing.
However, when I am able to access the angel, or if the angel feels close, I will put on the blues and sing really loud.
Cathy Donovan - Art Director
I live a visual life. From early on I was directed into uncovering the paintings breathing quietly in the everyday. Things like an egg in a frying pan with an unbroken yolk, silky evening light as opposed to midday overhead glare, a doily in a web spun overnight. Growing up within an artistic family was in retrospect a gift. I learned to taste, hear, see and experience life through this sensory lens. My brain is wired to my right hand but now I paint with sentences. The process is surprisingly similar. It's never an easy one and when I'm stuck, I sometimes retreat to my trusty art companions: Nell Blaine and Andrew Wyeth. At other times I go to my writing superheroes: Marilynn Robinson, Kent Haruf, William Trevor. I also go to my writing bible: Vivian Gornick. They all provide me something different, a way out of my hole, a little darkened space that I sometimes find myself in, thirsty and hungry. One of them leads me out.
Morgan Glass - Assistant Art Director
Taped on the wall above my desk is a handwritten note that says, “What question are you trying to ask?” Every story I write starts with a question, and my story gets to be the answer. I like to start this way because questions can be malleable. They can be full of possibilities and leave room for curiosity where other ways of starting a story don’t.
I also hand write almost everything before I type it—always have, always will. For me, handwriting each story allows my mind to really live within a story and explore the world I’m trying to create.
When I’m further along with a story that isn’t working, I sit back down with a pad and pen and I write out as much as I can about what it is I’m really asking within the piece. Sometimes this takes a while, but eventually, as I’m writing, the story takes over and begins to write itself. It’s those moments when I really revel in being a writer; allowing a story to take over and lead me places I didn’t know I needed to go. It makes the process all the more worthwhile.
Nathan Moseley - Translator (Translations) Editor
It could have something to do with the fact that I’ve been to 4 different airports in the last 24 hours, eaten far too many bags of miniature peanuts, and bobbled my head through enough turbulence to be thoroughly disoriented, but I’ve begun to have a newfound appreciation for the snippets. The snippets are those cleaved sentences and half thoughts that wriggle their way into a fuzzy, 2 a.m. state of consciousness. They’re the details that defy conventional logic, and occasionally, sanity. And they’re an integral piece of my writing process.
I have a Word document with nearly 100 collected snippets, and every morning (my goal) I riff on one of them for 5-10 minutes and see if anything worthwhile materializes. They range from possible titles, such as “Trotsky’s Coloring Book,” to opening lines: “3:30 and already the moon.” I usually don’t have much success when I try to map out a story, so, for me, this has been a great way to generate new content.
Tania Pabon – Managing Editor
I write on the cusp. On the cusp of daylight, or nighttime, or feeling. I generate the most usable work between 7:30pm and 10:00pm, and 6:00am and 7:30am. This is when I’m slowly going into or coming out of sleep. I have my guard down, I’m sensitive, I reflect. There’s something about embracing your vulnerability…The authority and authenticity of the piece lies in an author not afraid to feel unstable, to feel insecure, or to feel at all.
Rachel Parsons - Editor in Chief
For me, writing is like music: I have to hear it. I read my work aloud, in its entirety, as many times as it takes. I’m searching for the rhythm: how it lands on your skin and sinks down into your toes. At the outset, I usually have no idea what I am looking for, but when it surfaces—after pouring all the words in my head on to the paper, drafting and waiting and slashing and waiting and drafting and eating and drafting and dreaming and drafting and walking away—I can hear it, and it lulls me into a quiet calm.
The act of culling is a unique joy; I have a profound appreciation for the moment you realize one of your favorite lines does not actually belong. I cut them out, one by one, and send them to the graveyard with the rest of my drafts. I save every iteration of a piece from the first inspiration to the final product, labeling them with numbers to mark their place in the progression. I very rarely go back and read them, but there they sit, always ready to begin a second life in a new form.
Christine Quattro – Marketing Director
I am a reformed anti-writing practice individual. I now write 250 words (minimum) five days a week. I choose weekdays as my “writing weekend,” during which I seek out inspiration through art, film, music, and writing. I write in the morning, or late at night; times when my mind has processed, or unprocessed things to set out on the page. When overwhelmed, I listen to everything from Sam Cooke to Red Hot Chili Peppers as I write; or take several weeks off to just focus on reading. When in doubt on subject matter, I remember Nora Ephron’s words: “Everything is copy.”
Hilary Scheppers- Multimedia Editor
My writing process is usually like a stove boiling too many pots and sometimes cooking a dinner that I won't touch until the following day; I lunge at every idea, giving preference to the most exotic, turning up the heat, and incidentally burning some into vapor. When I’m not writing like this, I am absorbing. I am a constant sponge sopping up whatever juice is in the closest gutter--inviting the coils of fear and love, the sadness of time, to become my skin. I soak until I’m a mushy mess, and then, that’s when I run. I’ll put on my sneakers (typically on Friday afternoons), leave my phone behind, and go as far and as fast as my feet can take me until I find a wordless space where I can completely surrender to the masterful complexity that is the world. I’ll wring myself out onto the page or the sidewalk. I’ll sing or pray. What is happening? Where am I going? And then, only when I am empty, a poem tends to follow me home.
Elizabeth Sochko- Poetry Co-Editor
My process usually begins with a single challenge (I like constraints) to get words on the page. I’m also an avid list-maker who tends to get very excited about things, so I’m constantly leaving notes with forms to try, images to use, or sources to pull from. I read an interview with Saeed Jones where he mentioned advice along the lines of read five poems for each poem you write, which is a practice I’ve gleefully adopted. I don’t ever want to be writing a poem that isn’t influenced by or in conversation with others. When I write, I usually take breaks to read other poet’s poems aloud. Well-- I read everything aloud. Sound is everything. And coffee.
Theresa Sullivan - Poetry Co-Editor
In my process, I think I've come to favor the idea of work over that elusive friend 'inspiration'-- Dean Young put words to that feeling when he wrote "We cannot make the gods come. All we can do is sweep the steps of the temple, and thus we sit down to our desks." I love generative exercises to keep me going, and staying creatively busy keeps my mind open. Reading, sure, lots of it, but also painting, embroidery, plucking at my banjo. Crafty crosstraining. The discipline to write regularly and steadily doesn’t come easily to me, but every day I work, I’m one day closer to a habit for life.
Eden Werring - Nonfiction Contest Editor
Every day, I play at Hansel and Gretel. I abandon myself, get lost in the woods, and then find myself in some strange clearing I have never been in before. Large, blue leaves. Streaks of moon through the trees. At night, my mind is back in the forest—peering in black holes, the wilds of time. Because I wander so much, I am most productive in my writing when practicing routines that hold me to my center. The following daily (aspirational) actions are stones in the moonlit path that I follow back to myself. To find my way home. To start again.
- Practice gratitude. Write down what I appreciate.
- Dream. Sleep with paper nearby.
- Upon first waking say the Hebrew prayer, Modeh Ani: “Thank you for returning my soul to me.”
- Morning rituals: scrape tongue, brush teeth, sit outside in the stillness for five minutes with a cup of hot water/lemon, practice yoga and breathing, then metta meditation for myself and others: “May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be free.”
- Drink water. Banish toxins. Oil pull. Swish a spoonful of extra virgin organic coconut oil in my mouth for twenty minutes. Spit. Then do the same with writing. Everything onto the page for twenty minutes. A brain dump of thoughts, fears, anxieties, ideas. Spit.
- Let composting magic happen. Step away and then come back to writing to find what it has become.
- Write something every day.
- Embrace my shadow.
- Look for things that feel good to me. Choose love.
- Read books at night in a hot bath with sesame oil.