“All night I wait for language to form me.” Alejandra Pizarnik
Every writer has their own method (mad or not): a way to find the words, or a way to be found by them. How do we reach out and grasp meaning, and give it shape? What makes us want to write, and what keeps us away from the page? What brings us the clarity and perspective needed to revise? How do we make our lives a part of the writing 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, the Lumina support staff reflect on their artistic methods and their relationships with these processes.
Your assistant blog editor,
Joanna Bettelheim, Marketing Assistant
Writing makes up the smallest part of my writing process sometimes. During these times, I’ll feel a guilty twitch, telling me, “You should be writing! How can you call yourself a writer unless you are writing at this very moment?!” This twitch can generally be calmed with the careful application of cookie dough and Hulu. Because every experience I have is a part of my future writing. That includes enjoying a cone of Kanye West-themed ice cream, perfecting my Fiona Apple karaoke, and, yes, eating cookie dough and watching Hulu.
Jane Glucksman, Assistant Nonfiction Editor
I’m an early riser, and every morning I wake up eager for that first cup of coffee. I read a few newspaper articles, check on social media, and begin to make lists. Things to buy, bills to pay, people to call. I also have lists for snippets of conversation, titles for pieces I write, words to look up, and books to read. Morning is when I tend to be more focused and fresh for starting something from the beginning. I might have to trick myself to get my creative juices going. Take out a bright blue pen and write on yellow legal pads, ripping out the pages as I go, the sheaves splayed around me as decoration and inspiration. My favorite place to write is at home, where I have a round table that fits my laptop, piles of books, and papers, all fanning out around me. I’ve learned by accident that the even-handed harmony that makes a round table great for conversation serves this writer and her inanimate objects an ideal work-scape. I prefer my mornings quietly alone in what a friend calls “soft clothing.”
Jane Gordon Julien, Senior Nonfiction Reader
If I had a writing process, I wouldn’t be in school trying to figure out how to get a writing process. I don’t have one. I have a journalistic writing process, which entails looking my subject or subjects up on the Internet, interviewing them by phone, meeting up with them in person to get to know them further, interviewing other people who know them to get to know them even further than the further, then driving around until I get an idea on how to start the thing. If I don’t get any ideas, I make myself sit down and start to write, my internal voice assuring me that getting anything down on paper is an achievement. I also read the classics. If I’m reading Dickens or Dostoyevsky I find the words more easily than if I’m reading a book about how to be braver in the boardroom or how to sit powerfully in an interview. I don’t know that this qualifies as a writing process. Still, I guess it’s mine.
Jordan Hanson, Senior Nonfiction Reader
I never write when I want to. The desire to write always strikes at the most inconvenient of times: when I’m taking my cat to the vet, when I’m feeling for soft divots along the skin of a Fuji apple, when I’m about to fall asleep and my blankets cocoon me in an ether of warmth so delectable it becomes blasphemous to move. In times like these, it’s easy to convince yourself there will be more. That when you manage to carve out a couple of hours to pay homage to your art, inspiration will strike, the urge will be there and you’ll write for hours. It’s a deceiving myth I take pains to work against. So I write when I’d rather be at the beach, when the dishes are piled high and dirty like a convenient excuse, when the sun isn’t up and I’m tired and it’s too late for coffee, when I think I have nothing left to say. Unsurprisingly I’m whiny and I suddenly find cooking videos on Facebook fascinating, but I also always write something, like this biography for the Lumina blog. Isn’t that something?
Joseph Heiland, Fiction Reader
I write best without sunlight, which generally means either very early in the morning or late at night. Nothing of merit has ever been written (at least, for me) in comfy spots, so I position myself in the least cozy chairs/tables available, always avoiding couches. A cup of coffee or black tea is typically nearby, and I like to reward myself for putting something on the page by taking a long sip with each sentence written. If there's too much noise surrounding me, I'll put headphones in and crank up the white noise, gravitating mostly toward the sound of rain. On those days when nothing good seems to come from writing, I'll put my laptop away and read instead—something by Toni Morrison, if it's available, but always something that will remind me what the point of all this hard work is anyways.
Melissa Joplin Higley, Assistant Poetry Editor
Amidst the intoxicating and often distracting din of life as the parent of a four-year-old, I try to read and write a little bit every day. Sometimes it’s a quick read-through of the Poem-A-Day from Academy of American Poets. Other times, I’m able to devour an entire book of poetry. I read for insight and illumination, for example and answer. Every day, I try to write three longhand, stream-of-consciousness pages without concern for spelling, grammar, or a possible reader. The resulting purge of mental gunk allows room for my creativity to flow freely. During this process, I keep a second notebook nearby in which I write down ideas or phrases that emerge, and often those ideas are the bases for my poems. I also keep a small notebook with me for ideas that pop up throughout the day or in the middle of the night. Years of this practice has taught me that even when I’m stuck, if I just keep writing without concern for trying to create, I will inevitably create.
Victoria Johnson, Assistant Blog Editor
When it comes to fiction, most of my writing process occurs when I'm not actually writing. I've tried many times over the years to just sit down and make myself write, but while this does result in something concrete, it is so forced that it's not worth continuing. I find that my stories turn out better when I let them stew in my mind for a while before I begin to type them out, especially if writer’s block strikes. I let different scenes and scenarios play out in my head like a movie each night before I fall asleep. It feels almost as if each story creates itself. For poetry, I have an entirely different process. It's very spur of the moment - I take a thought, or a line, or a feeling and just go from there. It’s very hit-or-miss, but I don’t mind writing ten bad pieces for every decent one.
Riley Krembil, Editorial Assistant
Writing, for me, is all about emotion. It’s not about where I’m sitting, or my writing instrument (though of course I have my preferences): what inspires me to write is the need to feel. I have an incredible family, and wonderful life. I can’t complain even when it gets rough. Maybe it was my idyllic, safe, childhood that incited it, but my whole life I have craved the extreme emotions only literature has shown me (rage, agony, hysteria, bliss, etc.). I write the stories that I want to feel. Writer’s block, for me, stems from an inability to feel. Reality is an exhausting place filled with responsibilities that distract me from my much-preferred realm of fiction. When I get home from work, and I’m faced with hundreds of unwritten pages, the task seems insurmountable and the end unattainable. It’s exhausting and exhaustion leads to disconnection from my words and emotions. Stephen King’s writing, and his vivid imagery, is a great tool to reigniting emotion within me even when I feel drained. When blocked, I read tragedies and listen to sad music as a way to remember what drew me to writing in the first place.
Harris Lahti, Editorial Assistant
I definitely have the itch. Whenever I have the time, I’m writing. I love it. It’s an absolute joy. That’s not to say it’s easy, though. It’s a battle, for sure. Reading helps. I’m not ashamed to admit that I subscribe to the philosophy that good artists borrow, great artists steal. If I’m stuck, I’ll read short stories that resemble the style of my own story for inspiration. When I finish a draft, I’ll print the story and retype the whole thing from scratch. Then I’ll repeat this process, in all honesty, upwards of thirty times. I’m compulsive. I switch around phrasing. I change the tense. I delete and add characters. I get a little crazy. Sometimes I get frustrated, scream, pull my hair out. But in the end, it’s all worth it. The process is a labor of love.
Ashley Lopez, Editorial Assistant
Writing in scribbles and stolen moments is the way I've been able to fit my stories into my waking life. When I can dedicate full hours or days to writing it feels as deliciously illicit and refreshing as sneaking into a neighbor's backyard for a dip in their pool. Part of me wishes I had endless days to write with no reality banging on the door, insisting I feed it or clean up its messes. The real world is where I find my inspiration, though, and so it is only appropriate that my writing life most often happens wedged between strangers on the A train or standing in line at a coffee shop. People inspire me with their exquisite humanness, their lives I can only peer into briefly.
Abigail Marshall, Fiction Reader
I lie to myself every time I sit down to write. I tell myself that every first-draft word is the best it could be: the misspelling, the improper tense, the placeholder phrase when the right one won’t come. After several years of working as an editor, I’ve found this is the only way to turn off the inner critic. Otherwise late nights evolve into bleary mornings that find me still sitting at my desk, holding a thesaurus instead of a pen. And that isn’t the point at all.
Philip Probasco, Marketing Assistant
Reminders: Write every day, somewhere quiet. Meditate. Never underestimate what time or a font change can do for perspective. When in doubt, make a pun. Now erase the pun and write something honest. Remember that form is important. Remember that no, character is everything. Remember that Nabokov called all his characters galley slaves, and theme trumps all. Get comfortable with not knowing anything. Keep the scraps. Read that one Lorrie Moore story again. Put on some calming music. Open your current draft, think 'Lorrie Moore would never write that sentence.' Don't get too fancy. Save old drafts and go back to them - they will be better than you remember. Overwrite. Cut most of it. Everyone tells you to cut without mercy, so hack away until the heart is gone and it's just words. Go back and add the heart in again, this is why you kept old drafts. Even a sentence with a preposition every now and then - builds character. Go for a walk, take a shower, the right metaphor will come to you, like a lost dog? No, no, you know what? It's fine. You can change it later.
Justin Ridgeway, Assistant Fiction Editor
I used to have this dream for a writing life that involved just me, a laptop, a hammock, and the Pacific Ocean, a few steps down a dirt path. Then I did that, and it was actually a nightmare. It was a sun setting everyday around six, giving way to the jungle's impenetrable darkness. And all night, sweat dripping onto a keyboard, as scorpions scattered across the floor towards a fan oscillating uselessly in the corner. It was too much distance and much too quiet. I've been back and there's still something not quite right about that place. So I continue looking for somewhere everything lines up: the ocean, a cooler temperature, a specific quality of light and just enough edge to cut, but not sever.
Deidre Robinson, Editorial Assistant
As an English professor and tutor, I teach about the writing process all the time. Thinking about my own process, however, is different. As I get ready to create, I must seek solitude and quiet. Well, with the exception of some music playing in the background. Once I find a quiet place to meditate, I just let the creativity flow. No matter if it’s fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, I just let the creativity flow onto the page, no matter if it’s on the computer or my favorite journal that I always carry with me no matter what. In my travels, I take in the scenery and people walking about imagining the different scenarios that could take place in my little made up world. One thing I always remember, which is what I teach my students, is to just write. Get started and don’t be afraid of what comes out. The important part is to push yourself past your comfort zone because you never know what great things will happen. The only borders and boundaries are the ones we create for ourselves!
Julia Sternberg, Assistant Fiction Editor
I need solace to write, and ambient sound. Sometimes it’s the hum of the air conditioner, or the sloshing of the dishwasher, but my favorite is an app that recreates the sounds of a coffee shop. Whatever the case, white noise drowns out my anxieties and small, distracted daily thoughts, and lets me focus creatively and constructively. When I’m lucky, I get so focused it’s almost like meditating. Everything else in the world falls away except me and the story, and finishing a piece feels like coming out of a trance. When I’m unlucky and can’t quite find that groove, I put down the work and focus on something else for half an hour: take a walk, read a book, tackle a chore I’ve been putting off. A soft reset, before I try again.