Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Stacy Bierlein

A hearty Writerhead Wednesday welcome to Stacy Bierlein, author of the short story collection A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends. I’ve known Stacy since we did our MFAs together way back when at Columbia College in Chicago, and I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to share her very sexy, rather hot, laugh-out-loud-and-shake-your-head collection. As Pam Houston says, “These are stories that will make you laugh, and long for, and challenge, and think.”

Now, pull your chair close and lean in. Listen.

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Writerhead typically arrives unannounced. It might very well refuse to come when summoned. Ideally writerhead shows up in my office, early in the morning, when birds sing in the canyon and I can shut the rest of the world away; or in the coffee shop, bursting in with the rush of the caffeine, spurred on by the bustle and voices around me. These days writerhead might hurry in late at night, keeping me wide awake while the rest of the house sleeps, sometimes determined to stay until sunrise. Writerhead willingly accepts blame for dark circles under my eyes. I like writerhead as a travel companion. Sometimes stories take shape on airplane napkins or hotel memo pads and that feels good and right. Writerhead disappears completely when I am stressed out or overwhelmed. It may go missing for months at a time, but reappears to find all forgiven.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

In the years before I became a parent, I could fight hard to keep writerhead around as long as possible; to protect it from threats of interruptions. If the writing was going well I would do anything not to give it up, often to the frustration of my husband who can probably recall a hundred not-quite-conversations like this:

Ned: Your phone is ringing.

Stacy: I have voice mail for a reason.

Ned: Your phone is ringing again.

Stacy: Whomever it is will call or text my cell if it is urgent.

Ned: Your cell phone is turned off.

Stacy: Switch it on if you have a death wish.

Ned: Did you even hear the doorbell?

Stacy: Of course not! How many times do I have to explain this? I am not actually here!

Ned: Your flight leaves in two hours.

Stacy: There will be another one.

Ned: Sean Penn just ran across the street naked.

Stacy: Did you say something?

Ned: Have you heard a word I’ve said all day?

Stacy: Huh?

But writerhead is no match for a seven-year-old. These days I will forsake writerhead at the sound of my daughter’s voice, even if I always try to beg a few minutes more. My daughter will say, “Mommy, I need your help.” I’ll say, “I need two minutes and then I am all yours.” Thirty seconds later (or so it seems) she will say, “Mommy, your minutes are taking forever!” And writerhead takes a timeout.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Writerhead is the morning after the first time with a new lover. It is the warm and cold of the next day, the anxious heart filled with wonder. It is the assurance that words and gestures link together and pull and push and need—the stunning recollection that sentences linger. It is a jumble of memory, the uncertain order of events, the jolt of newness, of rearranging. It is comfort as well as surprise. It is complexity and vigor and fear. It is a suspension of time, a dance, the keeping and the letting go, and a resilient whisper of his lips on your neck.

BIO: Stacy Bierlein is the author of A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends. She is the editor of the award-winning anthology A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection and a co-editor of Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. She is a founding editor of the independent press Other Voice Books and co-creator of the Morgan Street International Novel Series. She holds degrees from Syracuse University and Columbia College Chicago. A native of mid-Michigan, she now lives in Newport Coast, California.

Follow Stacy on Twitter (@StacyBierlein). Say hello on Facebook. Get to know her publisher too.

Writerhead Wednesday: John Steinbeck & the Aching Urge of the Writer

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


A few weeks ago in the New York Times, I read a piece that compiled six very logical writing tips offered up by John Steinbeck (abandon the idea you are ever going to finish; write freely and rapidly; you know, the usual stuff…).

But, I was ecstatic to discover, it also included a “thoughtful disclaimer” by Steinbeck:

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

“the aching urge of the writer”

“the aching urge of the writer”

“the aching urge of the writer”

And there, right there, neatly embedded in this disclaimer, was a glimpse into Mr. Steinbeck’s writerhead. (And likely, into the writerheads of many…)

 

Mojo Monday: Dr. Seuss and a Letter Called “Yuzz”

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


“My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It’s the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond ‘Z’ and start poking around!”~Dr. Seuss

Happy (belated) Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

(And to all you writers reading this, go beyond “Z” today. Start poking around.)

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Pause for Station Identification

Usually on Wednesdays, this: Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.

But today, a bit of self-promotion instead.

A short story of mine (“Cherries Jubilee”) has just been published in the über-cool BIG LOVE BITES edition of HYPERTEXTMAG.com.

So whatcha doing lollygagging around here?

Scooch on over to HYPERTEXT. (Loads of great writing there…you could be reading all day.)

Read!

 

_____

Image: kibsri / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring the Fantabulous Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Titles led me to Elizabeth Stuckey-French. She’s got some of the best: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Mermaids on the Moon, and The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. Her prose and storytelling style got me addicted. I’m so excited to be able to share her writerhead today.

Now, listen up! And no fidgeting. As Elizabeth says, she lives in writerhead. We do not want to interrupt her.

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

I live in writerhead. It never goes away. I’m always experiencing my life and simultaneously evaluating things that happen to me and around me as possible material. Sometimes it’s annoying—like when I’m having fun with my family and I just want to be in the moment already. As James Thurber put it, “Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’” But other times it can be useful when one bad thing happens after another. Then, no matter how bad things get, and how sad I might be, part of me is standing back thinking, pay attention to how this feels so you can use it later! Now you know what it feels like to have someone you love die. Grist for the mill!

Writerhead gets most intense for me when I’m revising something. My fictional world can start to feel more urgent than the rest of my life. This happened to me the first time when I started graduate school at Purdue and had enrolled in my initial graduate fiction-writing workshop. This was also the first time I’d ever been required to revise a piece of fiction—previously I just banged out a first draft, an only draft, and stuck it in a drawer. My husband was teaching high school at the time and, since we didn’t own a computer, I tagged along with him to Benton Central High School one blizzardy day to use one of the Apple IIs in their library. I started to revise my story, and before I knew it, hours had passed. I had to tear myself away when it was time to go home that afternoon. I’d never been transported like that before, and that’s when I knew that I had found my calling.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Because I’m constantly in writerhead, I’m constantly being interrupted. Tending to my kids has taught me that the creative process is not fragile. Well, interruptions bother me some, but in a perverse way, being bothered about being interrupted makes me happy, because if I’m bothered I must be writing something I care about, which makes me happier than anything. And I’ve learned that what I’m working on will be there waiting, like a loyal friend, till I can get back to it. I do go on a writing retreat for two weeks every summer when I can wallow in writerhead to my heart’s content. I dream of those two weeks during the rest of the year. My husband always tells the story of how, when I was finishing my first novel on Sept. 11, 2001, while he was glued to the television watching the towers fall over and over again, I tuned out the news and sat at the kitchen table banging away at my revision. It was the best antidote I could find for the helplessness I was feeling.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Writerhead feels like playing on a Ouija board with my characters. We’ve got our fingers on the pointer, which takes us to another world, the world of the story.

BIO: Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of two novels, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady and Mermaids on the Moon, as well as a collection of short stories, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. She is a co-author, along with Janet Burroway and Ned Stuckey-French, of Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft. Her short stories have appeared in The Normal School, Narrative Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Five Points, and The O’Henry Prize Stories 2005. She was awarded a James Michener Fellowship and has won grants from the Howard Foundation, the Indiana Arts Foundation, and the Florida Arts Foundation. She teaches fiction writing at Florida State University.

If you’d like to know more about Elizabeth, pop on over to her web site or say hello on Facebook.

 

Mojo Monday: The Big Secret in Life (Writing)

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


Oprah puts it like this: “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”

Here’s my take: “The big secret in writing is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you work your arse off.”

And it’s true. You can.

Sure, in the “working” period there’s little recognition, few pats on the back, zero minutes of fame, moments of self-doubt, zero minutes in the limelight, etc.

And yes, the working period can (and most likely will) go on for a long time. Weeks, months, years, decades.

And all of that can feel like crap once in a while.

But (and here’s the hard part), too bad.

If you want it (you know, the big IT), you must do the work.

So go…work your arse off this week. Let nothing deter you.

_____

Image: ntwowe / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Mojo Monday: Writing Wisdom from Anne Lamott

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


As always,  Anne Lamott says it beautifully:

“I sometimes teach classes on writing, during which I tell my students every single thing I know about the craft and habit. This takes approximately 45 minutes. I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

“Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.”

Click here, to read the full article at sunset.com.

 

____

Image: Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Eric Olsen

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


If you write—and like me, love talking about writing and writers and the writing process—you need to read Eric Olsen and Glenn Schaeffer’s We Wanted to be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1974-1978). It’s like being a fly on the wall at the Iowa workshop. Great storytelling. (In fact, I can’t seem to get this blog post done because I can’t stop reading the chapter about John Cheever, who was teaching at Iowa at the time.)

So read the book. But first, read about Eric Olsen’s writerhead because, like the book, it’s kinda brilliant. (Just wait ’til you get to his answer to question #3…)

(FYI…today I’m giving away a copy of We Wanted to be Writers. Leave a comment to enter the giveaway.)

The Scoop About We Wanted to Be Writers

We Wanted to be Writers is a rollicking and insightful blend of original interviews, commentary, advice, gossip, anecdotes, analyses, history, and asides with nearly thirty graduates and teachers at the now legendary Iowa Writers’ Workshop between 1974 and 1978. Among the talents that emerged in those years—writing, criticizing, drinking, and debating in the classrooms and barrooms of Iowa City—were the younger versions of writers who became John Irving, Jane Smiley, T. C. Boyle, Michelle Huneven, Allan Gurganus, Sandra Cisneros, Jayne Anne Phillips, Jennie Fields, Joy Harjo, Joe Haldeman, and many others. It is chock full of insights and a treasure trove of inspiration for all writers, readers, history lovers, and anyone who ever ‘wanted to be a writer.'” [from amazon.com]

The Buzzzzzzzzzzz

“As a longtime fan of many of the writers who have passed through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I was thrilled to discover We Wanted to Be Writers. I had hopes that it would speak to avid readers like me as well as to writers and writing teachers, and I wasn’t disappointed. I read the entire book aloud to my husband on a nine-hour road trip from Oregon to California. Both of us were delighted by the clarity of the individuals’ voices as they spoke with candor and insight of the influences that have informed their work: the events that led them to Iowa, their experience in the workshop, and the vicissitudes of a writer’s life after they left.” ~ K. Girsch (amazon.com review)

“The scuttlebutt about life at the school is a pleasurable diversion while reading the good stuff about writing.” ~ Schuyler T. Wallace (amazon.com review)

First Sentence

“In 1977, sixty days after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a master of fine arts in imaginative writing, I was a stockbroker trainee in Beverly Hills.” [Chapter 1, “The Creative Enterprise,” by Glenn Schaeffer]

_________

And now, Eric’s writerhead

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

We talk quite a bit about this in We Wanted to Be Writers, how we get into that state of mind when the words are flowing and that pesky internal editor has shut up for once. For a lot of us, me included, it seems as if the state of mind we hope for, long for, and organize our writing space and time around is that moment when the work begins to write itself, and we’re just along for the ride. Or as C. G. Jung put it, “The work in process becomes the poet’s fate and determines his psychic development. It is not Goethe who creates Faust, but Faust which creates Goethe.” T. S. Eliot said something similar: “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.” The irony here is that artists of all sorts are known for their outsized egos, but what they often crave above all else is to escape that ego, lose control.

Jung offers a poet as an example, and Eliot himself is a poet so maybe they’re both talking about poetic inspiration in particular, but I think inspiration is inspiration. Of course, when I’m working on nonfiction, it’s usually for a buck and with a deadline, so it’s not as if I have the luxury of coaxing some particular state of mind. I just crank the stuff out. Still, even then, sometimes the work seems to take on a life of its own and carries you along; I live for those moments.

When I’m going to work on fiction, which for me is a somewhat different process from nonfiction, I’ll light a St. Jude candle. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. St. Frances de Sales is the official patron saint of writers, but St. Jude seems more appropriate, if you ask me. He had his head lopped off in 65 CE in Lebanon. St. Jude is often depicted with a flame around his head, or coming out of the top of it. This flame is meant to indicate that he received the Holy Spirit. I think of the flame as symbolizing that inspiration we all hope and pray for. There’s something rather writerly about that flame, and the decapitation, which is a little like a rejection slip for all your troubles.

I blow out the candle when I’m done working for the day. Thus these candles can last for days, or weeks, a sorry commentary on how often I work on fiction. The idea of the candle is to remind me that I’m not writing fiction because I hope to sell it and make a buck but because, well, I guess because I can’t help myself. Anyway, it’s my little attempt to set the time I work on fiction apart from other time. It’s a little sign for the Muses that, OK, I’m ready, I’m waiting, bring it on….

I have the candle right in front of me at my desk, and also a retablo of St. Jude hanging on the wall, so I’m always looking at the poor guy no matter what I’m working on, and so at least I’m thinking about my fiction, even if I’m not working on any at the moment. It’s helpful to have that little nagging reminder….

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

I lack the discipline to turn off my phone and the little annoying “ping” my computer makes when a new email has plopped into my in box, so I’m always getting interrupted. But that “zone,” that state of “flow,” when the work it carrying me along, is such a tenuous and fleeting thing at any time that it always comes and goes on its own, and I guess I’ve learned to accept the interruptions and shifts in mood or state of mind as part of the process. The really important thing for me is to keep my butt in the chair and put words on the “page.” Even when the words aren’t coming, or they’re coming and my internal editor is telling me they suck, at least I’m making myself available to a good idea. So I don’t have a lot of ups and downs.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

As I mentioned, I think of this state of mind as “going along for the ride.” You’re standing by the side of a two-lane country road out in the middle of nowhere, thumb out, waiting for a ride, and along comes a 1957 Cadillac convertible, pink, and driving it is a beautiful young woman (the Muse, of course), and she pulls over and tells you to get in, and you ask, “Where you heading?” and she says, “We’ll see.” So you get in and you’re not sure where you’re going but you don’t care because it’s wonderful to go along for the ride, and you settle back into that plush leather seat and watch the countryside flow past through half-closed eyes. But it doesn’t last long. Just as you’re getting comfy, the beautiful young woman pulls off the road and parks in front of a rundown one-pump gas station with a big, faded Coca Cola sign on top and goes inside, and a couple minutes later she comes out with a bag of butter-toffee peanuts. She tosses the car keys to you and tells you to drive. She gets in on the passenger side and opens the bag and starts eating the peanuts. She doesn’t offer you any. You’re driving now, but you have no idea where you’re going.

_________

Eric Olsen was born and raised in Oakland—go A’s!—California and started college as a pre-med student at UC Berkeley, like all ambitious young freshmen at the time. His interest in medicine lasted about halfway through his first quiz in “orgo.” He finished college many years and false starts later with a BA in Comparative Literature (Classical Greek, a long story and we won’t get into that here). He received his MFA in fiction in 1977.

With Glenn Schaeffer, he co-founded in 2000 and then directed the International Institute of Modern Letters, a literary think tank that helped writers who were victims of censorship and persecution. Eric also helped establish the first American City of Asylum, in Las Vegas, an Institute program. The Institute also ran programs to support emerging writers in this country and abroad.

Prior, Eric served as executive editor of custom publishing at Time Inc. Health, a TimeWarner company, and he worked as a freelance journalist.

Eric has published hundreds of magazine articles, a few short stories, and six nonfiction books, including We Wanted to Be Writers. He served as a Teaching/Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1976-77), and after leaving, he received a James A. Michener Fellowship for fiction. Most recently, his writing has delved into art and design.

Eric continues, despite common sense of family and friends, to work on a novel and screenplay. He does sometimes wish he’d toughed it out in orgo.

Want to connect with Eric? Check out the We Wanted to be Writers web site. You can also give him a wave on Twitter (@2bwriters) or say hidy-ho on Facebook.

_________

GIVEAWAY!!!

Today—Wednesday, November 9, 2011—I’m giving away 1 copy of Eric Olsen and Glenn Schaeffer’s We Wanted to be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment for Eric and Glenn right here on WRITERHEAD.

*Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on November 10, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***The winner will be drawn on Thursday, November 10.

****Though I welcome all charming comments, only one comment per person will be counted in the contest. (I know, I know…but this isn’t American Idol.)

*****The winner will be drawn randomly by the highly scientific method of my 3yo pulling a name out of a hat (or some other convenient container…blocks box, [unused] cereal bowl, sand bucket, etc.)

 

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Stay Tuned…

Due to a crazy snowstorm that downed trees and power lines, I’m not able to post this week’s Writerhead Wednesday post.

(sniff, sniff)

Never fear…electricity is supposed to be restored to our community by Friday. (Friday!) So I’ll be back next Wednesday with another brilliant Writerhead!

See you next week!

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Megan Stielstra

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Way back in the day, Megan Stielstra was a student in my “Intro to Fiction Writing” class at Columbia College in Chicago. She was a freshman, and even back then, she kicked ass. She was smart, savvy, uber creative, generous, supportive, intrepid on the page. A natural storyteller with voice oozing from every pore.

She still kicks ass, and today I’m super happy to report that her first collection of short stories—Everyone Remain Calm—will be released as an e-book later this month.

Whoop! Whoop!

The Scoop About Everyone Remain Calm

In this debut collection of stories, Megan Stielstra will explain the following in revealing detail: how to develop relationships with convicted felons and 1970s TV characters; how not to have a threesome with your roommate; the life and death nature of teaching creative writing; and what happens when discount birth control is advertised on Craigslist. Witty, tough, imaginative, and hot-blooded, Megan Stielstra’s fiction and first person reporting are the missing links between Raymond Carver and David Sedaris.

The Buzzzzzzzzzzz

“Here’s the thing about Megan Stielstra: she has a profound understanding of where we all go in our minds, and the unique ability to turn it into a story that sounds like your new best friend is telling it to you. You know, the kind where you’re going ‘Oh my god that totally happened to me’ or ‘It’s like you see inside my head’ until she gets to the part where there’s suddenly a marching band following her down the street or she’s sleeping with the Incredible Hulk or having a three-way which is the part where you go ‘Okay that didn’t happen to me but damn, why does it still seem like it did?’ Megan Stielstra brings it to the party and rocks it.” ~ Elizabeth Crane, We Only Know So Much

Everyone Remain Calm is a rarity: a bold, imaginative, and cunning collection of stories. Spanning a wide variety of styles, forms, and tones, the language here is unapologetically inventive and often humorous, while the sentiments are deeply heartfelt. Ms. Stielstra’s inimitable voice is a fiercely unique creation.” ~ Joe Meno, The Great Perhaps

“Stielstra writes beautifully and kinetically. Her work possesses a rare aural quality, no doubt the result of spending so much time onstage, or even in front of a classroom…. in Everyone Remain Calm, she gleefully tests the boundaries of the short-story form.” ~ Time Out Chicago

First Sentence

“When Wade Del Dallas put his fist in my eye on our third date, my dad went after him with a .375 Holland and Holland magnum.” (from “Shot to the Lungs and No Breath Left,” the 1st story in Everyone Remain Calm)

_________

And now, Megan’s writerhead

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

At this point in my life, writing is more about time than space. I have three jobs and a three-year-old. I’m trying to market one book that I dearly love and finish another that’s got me so distracted I keep missing El stops. Last night, on the way home from teaching a 6:00-10:00 class, my writerhead was in Prague in the late 1960’s with a sixteen-year-old waitress deciding to sleep with her customer—a leader in the Communist party—in order to get out of the country. How ridiculous and terrifying and necessary is that scene when she takes off her clothes in front of him, what does she think about this swanky hotel room—a kind of opulance she’d never imagined—and here’s this man, so much older, so ugly, so desperate himself, and as her dress hit the floor I heard, “Next stop—Howard!” I was eight stops past my house. It was 11:30. I was exhausted. But the writerhead was so, so good—so really, who cares?

I’m going to admit something here, and don’t laugh, ‘cause I feel lame even saying this: my fantasy life, right now, involves a desk. No, not sex on a desk (although that’s fun, too!); rather writing on a desk. Having my own space, my room of one’s own. I think of wallpapering it with corkboard so I can pin chapter arcs to the wall and just… look at them. Just… think. Right now, since I’m always coming from somewhere or on the way somewhere else, I jump into writerhead when and wherever I can. I write in coffeeshops, 2nd Story’s studio space between rehearsals, in the car in front of my son’s school, in the school library before or after class, on the kitchen floor. Every night, before I go to sleep, I copy the messy notes I wrote all day in a longhand journal into the computer, and then, during longer stretches of writing time on the weekends, I see how those notes fit into the overall scene or story. I think of how Flaubert would copy whole sections from his letters and notebooks into his fiction—that’s what I’m doing.

The truth is, I’m always in writerhead. All of my jobs involve story in some way—I teach creative writing, I teach teachers to teach creative writing, and I’m the Literary Director for the 2nd Story storytelling series—so there’s a constant dialogue about literary craft and creative problem solving with very passionate, talented, and diverse artists who inspire the hell out me and challenge me to go deeper and take risks. Last week in class, we were discussing the scene in The Things They Carried where Tim’s in the boat at the Canadian border, and a student commented that this was the first moment where we saw Tim being honest about himself. Up until then, he’d been describing the experiences and feelings of other characters, but it was this moment of vulnerability that really made him a fully realized character. Hearing this slammed me right into writerhead: What does it mean to fully realize a first-person narrator? When in my own work am I showing the character’s vulnerability? This sixteen-year-old girl in the hotel room in Prague—is she vulnerable in this moment? Or powerful? What would be a moment of vulnerability for her? I was so excited just then! And excitement is a deliciously contagious thing—my students can feel it and feed off of it in the same way I feed off of their comments and questions, and those comments and questions lead to more realizations and ideas, and this all happens to me twenty times a day. Quite frankly, it’s awesome, and even as I fantasize about my future desk, I wouldn’t change where I am right now. The ideas—of story, of how to tell the story, the writerhead—is my day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and while I can’t currently have Ass In Chair for six/seven hour stretches, I can get it in six/seven hour bursts—in the chair, in the classroom discussion, in my head on the el, back in the chair, in my head while I’m cooking, in my head on the tredmil, in my head at the theatre, in the chair, in the chair, in the chair.

The only time it really, honestly turns off? When I’m building super-ramps with my kid. I make a mean super-ramp.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

A few weeks ago, I was trying to finish a story—I was on deadline, which is great ‘cause you have to force yourself to finish but also awful ‘cause you have to force yourself to finish—and my three-year-old kept tugging on my pant leg. I kept saying, “Five more minutes, baby,” but it wasn’t five more minutes, it was five five more minutes, and when I finally looked up, he was sitting on the carpet holding a Hot Wheels car in each hand staring at me. “Am I now?” he asked, and I started to cry. I picked him up, rocked him on my lap, and cried. He didn’t know what was happening, and the truth is, neither do I. How do you do it? Be a writer and a mom and a wife and a professional and a friend and a human and all of it; I feel guilty and excited and fortunate and grateful and crazy.

I’m in the process of figuring it out.

I’ll always be in the process of figuring it out.

Last spring, Robin Black was featured on Writerhead Wednesdays, and in answer to this question she said, “I have been known to weep.” I loved that. I laughed my ass off because it’s so, so, so true. You weep because an interruption takes you out of the story—but sometimes, I need to be taken out. I need to be in the world.

Right now, this very moment, I’m writing this from a coffee shop next door to my son’s school. When I dropped him off today, he said, “Have good writing, mommy!”

I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Writerhead is like Sookie Stackhouse on True Blood; she’s telekinetic, and is constantly, 24/7, hearing the thoughts of everyone around her all the time. It’s nonstop noise, an endless stream of voices. Sometimes writerhead feels like that, like I’m off in this fog and unable to be fully present in the moment. I’m trying to be mindful of this, trying to imagine that there’s a dial on the side of my head that I can turn up or down: all the way up and I’m fully committed to the story I’m imagining; all the way down and I’m fully committed to the story I’m living.

_________

Megan Stielstra is a writer, storyteller, and the Literary Director of Chicago’s 2nd Story storytelling series. She’s told stories for The Goodman, The Steppenwolf, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Chicago Poetry Center, Story Week Festival of Writers, Wordstock Literary Festival, and Chicago Public Radio, among others, and she’s a Literary Death Match champ. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Other Voices, Fresh Yarn, Pindeldyboz, Swink, Monkeybicycle, Cellstories, Annalemma, Venus, and Punk Planet, among others, and her story collection, Everyone Remain Calm, is forthcoming October 2011 from Joyland/ECW. She teaches creative writing at Columbia College and The University of Chicago.

If you’re smart (and I know you are), you’re going to want to tip your hat to Megan cause, well, she rocks! So pop on over to her web site (www.meganstielstra.com). Or give her a wave on Twitter (@meganstielstra) or Facebook.

_________

Q4U Readers / Writers / Moms / Dads / Writing Teachers / Storytellers / Jugglers Extraordinaire: What’s your take on Megan’s statement that “excitement is a deliciously contagious thing”?