Many thanks to Janet Buttenwieser for inviting me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Janet has an MFA in nonfiction from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her nonfiction work has appeared several places, including Potomac Review, Literary Mama, Bellevue Literary Review, and SHARK REEF. She won honorable mention in The Atlantic 2010 Student Writing contest and was a finalist in the 2014 Oregon Quarterly Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest. Janet teaches writing classes at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. Find excerpts from her memoir-in-progress, GUTS, and her thoughts on the writing life on her website, Janet Buttenwieser.
You can read Janet’s responses to the Writing Process Blog Tour questions on her blog. I answer the same questions below.
What am I working on?
At the moment, I’m taking a pause from work on my memoir-in-progress, Hiking Naked—A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance. The manuscript is my thesis project for my MFA program at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, where I hope to graduate in August. Hiking Naked is a personal narrative about what I learned while living in the remote mountain village of Stehekin, Washington about work, community, and leadings of the Spirit (as well as dealing with six feet of snow in the winter, ordering groceries by mail, and living without a telephone). Right now the manuscript is in the hands of my second reader. While I await her comments, I’m exploring a couple of ideas for future nonfiction projects (too soon to provide details, but they involve telling other people’s stories). I’m also sorting through the piles that accumulated in my office during the thesis revision process and in the aftermath of AWP#14 (huge writing conference in Seattle the end of Feb.).
|Piles have been sorted now, and I can again sit in my chair
and on the couch.
I also write short-ish personal essays and have files of them on my computer that I’ve worked on the past three years while in the MFA program; it’s time to get back to them and see which ones are ready for another round of polishing and submission to literary journals and contests.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I’m still developing my unique voice. My work is shaped by essayists and memoirists I admire, such as Ana Maria Spagna, Scott Russell Sanders, Annie Dillard, Brenda Miller, and Brian Doyle to name just a few. Oh, to have my work NOT differ from theirs! I tend to wrestle with questions about spirituality, justice, work, and peace and to ground my reflections in nature.
Why do I write what I do?
In Writing from the Center, Scott Russell Sanders succinctly expresses my response to this question:
“I wake early in order to write, and I write in order to come more fully awake.”
For most of my adult life, writing has been a vehicle for me to understand what I believe, feel, question, and know – “to come more fully awake.” I also strive to give voice to the untold stories of ordinary people; those stories often are the most extraordinary and the most meaningful. I never know who or what might call to me for telling, but I’ve learned to heed those stirrings of a good story. My first book, Hands at Work, was inspired by a series of black-and-white photographs of hands by photographer Summer Moon Scriver. The images suggested to me that these were people who were passionate about their work and were nourished by manual labor. I wanted to give voice to their stories and to others who work with their hands.
How does my writing process work?
A turning point in my writing life was an epiphany I had at a writing workshop nearly fifteen years ago. Sometime during that week, I started to think of writing as my work and that I should treat it with the same respect and commitment I gave to my work as a public health consultant. I recognized that I’m most creative in the morning, and since I was self-employed, I had control over my schedule. I still follow the practice I started then of reserving most weekday mornings (anywhere from one to four hours) for writing—I schedule those hours on my calendar just like any other commitment.
Coffee cup in hand, I climb the stairs to my office, the former bedroom of my now-adult son. I typically begin with some kind of centering activity: a time of silence, reading something (often poetry) I admire, and a free write. Then I shift to the work at hand. Whether it’s writing new work or revising (my reward for having filled some blank pages), I set my timer for 20 to 30 minutes and write. I’ve turned off all visual and auditory notifications of anything coming in to e-mail or social media. If the phone rings, I let the machine answer. When the timer goes off, I stop where I am, re-set it for 10 to 15 minutes and get up from my desk. I do some task—hang laundry on the line, clean up breakfast dishes, brush the dog—that allows me to keep thinking about what I’m writing. I DON’T check e-mail or phone messages. When the timer goes off again, I re-set it for another half hour and return to what I was working on. Depending on the day of the week and whether I’m heading off to my day job as a school nurse, I’ll repeat this cycle several times. I’m lucky to be able to spend so many hours pursuing this craft.
Next week the Writing Process Blog Tour continues to branch out with two more writers I admire.
Chels Knorr is a writer first and an editor second. She’s the editor of two monthly health-care publications (which on most days, basically just means she’s a professional e-mail writer). She’s plannning to graduate with her MFA at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island in Washington State in August 2014. She loves waffles, a competitive game of Scrabble and telling (mostly true) stories. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, Tyler, and dog, Goose.
A North Carolina native, Gretchen Wing is a 20-year teacher of high school English and history who now works as a baker in Washington’s San Juan Islands, and writes. She earned her BA in English from Harvard and her Masters in U.S. and Latin American History from the University of Washington. Her stories have been published in SHARK REEF, and she writes the monthly column, “Spotlight on Lopezians,” for The Islands’ Weekly. Her middle grades novel, The Flying Burgowski, was published early this year by Madrona Branch Press, and she is hard at work on the sequel.