The writing we do during a Guided Writing Tour™ is all about beginnings - the beginning of an idea, a new way of thinking, a published piece - or in Deborah’s case, all three! As Deborah tells us, she was inspired to write the beginning of her essay entitled, “Love, Crazy?” during a tour, continued to develop it, and got it published!
Congratulations, Deborah, on the recent publication of your essay, “Love, Crazy?” in the current print issue of the prestigious literary journal, Alaska Quarterly Review! I was excited about the writing you shared on our Guided Writing Tour™, and I’m so happy you continued to develop it into a published essay! I’d love for you to share a bit about your process.
What inspired you during your Guided Writing Tour™ at the Hammer? Do you recall how you felt about the art you viewed?
Deborah A Lott: I remember feeling opened up emotionally and intellectually by the art and flooded with all kinds of ideas and feelings. Even when I don’t fully understand a work of art, there’s something that feels expansive about going into a big gallery space and seeing a work of art contained there. It makes me want to reach for meaning in experiences I might not otherwise look at too closely, to extract them from my daily life and examine them more closely. Mostly I felt freed by the art and the prompt to experiment. The limited time afforded for the prompt made it safe to write about a topic I’d been gnawing on but that I’d felt afraid to put down in words. It involved some taboos and writing about family members. The art made me think about story and the way we all tell stories and live via stories, and long to immerse ourselves in stories, and how hard it is to live in strict, scientifically verifiable reality all the time. These are themes that wound up being expressed in the final piece.
How did you approach developing what you’d written into your published essay, “Love, Crazy?” Did it change during that process?
Deborah A Lott: I wrote the opening to the piece at the Hammer. That opening pretty much remained the same. Once I had the opening and had kind of violated the taboo, it was less scary to just keep writing what had happened and how I felt and thought about it. I reverted to my usual mode of writing a longer piece, which is to write and write and write, cut, revise, cut, revise, rethink, agonize, and submit my work to trusted readers for feedback before submitting it for publication. And even after that, I wasn’t sure if I would ever publish the piece because I still felt that I’d violated some taboos.
As a published author and teacher, you certainly have the experience and tools to successfully revise your work. What advice do you have for a writer who’s just transcribed what they’ve written on the tour and may not be sure what to do next? What are the some of the questions they can ask themselves about the writing to allow it to evolve?
Deborah A Lott: I love Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. She argues for just breaking the writing down into doable pieces. If you try to look at the whole thing, you can be overwhelmed. So I wrote it scene by scene, moment by moment. There’s a section in the piece about watching the TV show “The Bachelorette” and my relationship to the reality/unreality it presents. There’s a section about visiting open houses even after buying a house, and about the stories those usually staged houses told me. Those sections were less daunting than those where I really had to dig into my relationship to my family history, and to truth and reality and my sometimes violation of other people’s fantasies. Why do I feel invested in debunking other people’s faith even when my own faithlessness causes me so much pain? Why do I both long to escape into fantasy and set up obstacles to my own immersion? Those were harder questions to grapple with.
When do you know a piece is ready to send out for submission?
Deborah A Lott: I don’t think I ever do. I just get exhausted and feel like I’ve reached the limitations of my ability to make it any better. And I just need to get it on someone else’s desk. If it gets accepted then it must have been ready enough, I figure. If it gets rejected repeatedly then I take a hard look at it again. Nothing is ever really done; the process of revision can go on forever.
Any other writing advice you’d like to share?
Deborah A Lott: The best writing advice I can give is to accept that writing is impossible. If we think it comes magically or easily to anyone else, that can get in the way of our doing the hard, painful work involved. Yes, there are moments when you feel like you are channeling and it’s all flowing out of you, and isn’t this wonderful, and haven’t I been touched by god, but that’s not all the time. Only by keeping your butt in the chair doing the hard work will those moments come. I write because it’s one way to figure out what I really think and feel about something; when I’ve written a piece that has somehow taken on a life of its own, that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I feel no other way. But I worked on the piece that came out of the prompt for a solid year, and probably wrote as many words as wound up on the cutting room floor as wound up in the final draft. You have to be patient to write and just trust the process.
“I write because it’s one way to figure out what I really think and feel about something; when I’ve written a piece that has somehow taken on a life of its own, that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I feel no other way.” – Deborah A. Lott
Deborah A. Lott’s memoir, Don’t Go Crazy without Me, will be published April 2020 by Red Hen Press. Her work has been published in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, Black Warrior Review, Cimarron Review, the nervous breakdown, Los Angeles Review, Salon, Cactus Heart, StoryQuarterly, Psychology Today, and other places. She is the author of the book, In Session: The Bond between Women and Their Therapists. Her family of origin was recently featured on an episode of This American Life. She teaches creative writing and literature at Antioch University Los Angeles.
• Check out Submittable
The site I use for making and tracking submissions, along with researching markets.
• What have you got?
Do any journals or sites catch your eye as a fit for your work? Go back to the piece you wrote on your tour. Find something floating around in your files, or your journal. And revise.
I submit the same piece to five markets (that accept simultaneous submissions) at a time. When one comes back, it goes out to the next market. Repeat until accepted.