The writing life

Until this summer, I had met only two other people who share my first name. So I was intrigued, as I got ready for this July’s Tin House Writer’s Workshop at Reed College, to find another Deirdre among the list of writers attending.
But by midway through the week of the workshop, I still hadn’t run into her, though I kept accumulating breadcrumbs as I introduced myself to others. “Oh, you’re the one from Georgia,” one woman said when she met me. Another said, “You’re working on a memoir.” And finally, “Someone found your wallet!” Each time I shook my head and said, “No, that’s the other Deirdre.” I got more intrigued, and a little worried we’d never meet.

One afternoon late in the week, I was locking my dorm room just as another woman down the hall was leaving hers. “I don’t think we’ve met yet,” I said.

“I’m Deirdre,” she replied with a warm smile. In addition to being a radiant, caring soul, Deirdre Sugiuchi is a fearless memoirist, writer and librarian based in Athens, Georgia. She also does kick-ass interviews with the likes of Steve Almond and Roxane Gay. You can read about her writing life here, as part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. And here’s my take on those same questions:

photo 1

What are you working on?
I’m working on my first novel. It’s about a woman who abandons her husband and teenage son for Iceland to follow her dream of becoming a geologist and her obsession with climate change. A year after she leaves, her son runs away to try to find her and reunite his family.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
My work is underpinned by my training as an environmental scientist, and some of the questions that arise from this: What is our responsibility to our loved ones, and how does it compare to our responsibility to the rest of the people on earth, and to the planet itself? What happens when these two responsibilities come into conflict, for example in the face of a threat like climate change?

Why do you write what you do?
I’m inspired by the prickly and wondrous texture of a variety of human experiences—the thrill and confusion of brushes with love, friendship and loss, awe in the presence of the natural world, the concentration of scientific observation, and the ache of wrestling with spiritual and ethical questions.
How does your writing process work?
I set my stopwatch for an hour and go, then take a break when it beeps. My timed writing bursts have been inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s writing, the Pomodoro technique, and this New York Times piece on productivity—I try to do at least one a day, and as many as I can fit in. I walk for about an hour each day, usually around the lake near my house, to let my mind spool and think about my characters.

I write first drafts by hand in a notebook, and try to let myself just fall onto the page without judging myself too much (this isn’t always easy, but it’s really important; see Michelle Huneven’s wonderful words on the topic). The next day I read this over and keep going. At intervals I type these drafts into the computer, print them out and edit on the page. When I can’t see them clearly anymore, I share them with my writing group and other close friends for critique, and then do more editing with their responses in mind. All along the way, I read as much as I can for inspiration and guidance.

Going public is the part of writing I struggle most with. I’m trying to push myself to do more of that this year.

Next up:

Meredith Clark is a Seattle-based poet and writer. Thanks to an Anne Carson book, I had the good fortune to meet her in a coffee shop several years ago, and have treasured her insights ever since.

Paullette Gaudet writes fiction and memoir (and gives killer haircuts) in Seattle. Her smart, generous writing and critiques are crucial to the writing group we share.

Christine Zoe Palau is a Los Angeles-based fiction writer. We met in Mat Johnson’s workshop at Tin House this summer, where I was wowed by her wonderful writing and calm perspicacity.

This entry was published on September 24, 2014 at 7:26 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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