WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR / Angele Ellis
Alf shukran (a thousand thanks) to poet and blogger Carol Berg for inviting me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, as well as for posting my answers on her blog.
For more writing process goodness, check out writer-superlibrarian Leigh Anne Focareta’s blog, Be Less Amazing <belessamazing.wordpress.com> and poet-visual artist Jill Khoury’s new blog <www.jillkhoury.com/blog/>
As usual, I have several projects going at once. I’m revising a dystopian YA (young adult) short story after receiving suggestions from an editor—and this may be the germ of a novel. I’m also retooling my new poetry chapbook manuscript (working title, “Departing Chameleon,” which is fitting, as it continues to change) for another round of submissions. My “family” Arab American novel, Desert Storms (several chapters/excerpts of which have been published) is hanging fire…I must finish a draft this year. I’ve been doing poetry reviews for Weave Magazine, and I hope this will continue. I still take on freelance editing assignments…and I’m meeting with a neighbor who’s opening an arts and crafts shop about a saleable literary idea.
As I work in several genres, I’m thinking about some common differences (preoccupations, obsessions) that influence my work. I was weaned on Victorian and Modernist poets, whose work my mother recited to me; I know a number of these poems by heart myself. An early reader, I devoured every form of fairy tale and folk tale I could find, along with classic children’s novels and biographies of distinguished women (there weren’t many then!). By the age of ten and eleven I had moved on to Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare (both sonnets and plays), Dickens, Maugham. The film version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 had a profound impact on me (along with other movies, from classics to cheesy science fiction), although I didn’t read him until high school, along with such writers as Emily Dickinson, Katherine Anne Porter, Rainer Maria Rilke, Theodore Roethke, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky—and Mahmoud Darwish’s “A Lover from Palestine.” By the time I was in college, writers inspired by/claimed by second wave feminism had made inroads into the canon—Doris Lessing, Sylvia Plath, Marge Piercy, Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin, Adrienne Rich, and Judy Grahn, to name a few.
So history and politics are important to me as a writer. (I was heavily involved in the peace and justice movement during the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, and since 9/11, I have actively embraced my Arab American identity and the stories it leads me to tell.) Stylistically, I am more traditional than experimental—I love narrative (however fantastical), form (including sonnets, ghazals, pantoums, haiku, and haibun), meter, rhyme, and the connection rather than the disassociation of themes and images.
Having ventured into this answer in Question 2, my simple retort is compulsion. This can work well, when I’m in a fever to get something done—or badly, when my “teeming brain” is pulled in multiple directions, and only fragments of different pieces seem to emerge. But nothing is wasted—like matter, my writing is transformed (sometimes), rather than destroyed.
I have to write something daily—even if it’s only “finger exercises,” as I call the birthday and other occasional poems I compose and post for Facebook friends (and for other friends and family). Fueled by Earl Grey tea, I work well under deadline, although I’m better with deadlines imposed by others—editors, clients, colleagues, contests—than with those I impose on myself. Once a night owl, I now find myself more productive in the mornings—unless I’m under deadline or obsessed.
Other than that, my process is haphazard. The only time I felt I was really smoking was when I had the privilege of spending four weeks at a writer’s retreat in Costa Rica, courtesy of a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Cut off from regular responsibilities, I drafted thirty poems—thirteen of which have been published in revised form—and six loosely connected short stories, four of which have been published in revised form. But like most people, I couldn’t live like that forever—and after four weeks, I didn’t want to (and I couldn’t keep up the pace, because of my chronic health problems). The trick I haven’t mastered is how to transfer more of that discipline into the everyday.