My Writing Process
Thank you to Patricia Dunn and Alexandra Soiseth for inviting me to participate in the “My Writing Process” blog tour. For this venture, writers reveal what they’re working on and why and how they write.
But first, I’d like to say a few words about the women who pulled me into this thing.
I met Patricia approximately seven years ago when I interviewed feminist women of faith for my book Taking Back God: American Women Rising Up for Religious Equality. Pat was then the managing editor of the website muslimwakeup.com. We instantly became friends, and we remain friends despite the fact that she has strong-armed me into joining twenty-first century digital culture. Pat is the author of a thoroughly enjoyable young adult novel, Rebels By Accident, about a teenage Arab-American girl who gets caught up in the Arab Spring in Cairo.
Alexandra Soiseth is the assistant director of the MFA writing program at Sarah Lawrence and author of Choosing You: Deciding to Have a Baby On My Own. She’s working on a young adult series about a girl who travels back in time to 1589 Scotland, when midwives and other women healers were burned as witches.
I am happy to participate in this blog tour for two reasons. One, I’m curious to know how other writers create their work, and I’m frequently asked about my own methodology, so this is an excellent opportunity to demystify the process of writing. Two, this blog tour enables writers to support one another—always a good thing.
1. What are you working on?
I completed the manuscript of my newest book, I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet, in the fall of 2013. I hadn’t touched it in many months, but last week I was summoned by my editor to correct some errors in my endnotes. HarperCollins will publish the book in February 2015.
Yes, that’s right: from the time I submitted my manuscript until the pub date, approximately 16 months will pass. But that’s fine with me—which is why I am loyal to traditional publishing. I appreciate that the traditional book publishing industry is meticulous about line editing, copyediting, proofreading, securing permissions, and creating an index—not to mention designing an appealing cover, crafting a promotion strategy, and making sure the endnotes are air-tight.
Right after I completed the manuscript, I began working full-time as a senior writer and editor in the national headquarters of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the advocacy and political arm of the organization. In this position, I ghost-write op-ed articles, speeches, scripts, and other materials to advance the cause of reproductive rights and to educate folks about women’s health care.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
In my book writing, I strive to recreate the dynamic of a women’s liberation consciousness-raising group. I relate the personal experiences of the girls and women who share their stories with me so that readers come to recognize that the personal is political. All too often, individuals believe that their own experience of oppression or discomfort is unique, and therefore they think they must bear it alone. I prod readers to realize that the many situations girls and women experience as painful or disturbing—from being the target of slut-shaming to being excluded in one’s faith community to feeling pressured to wear crippling shoes for the sake of appearing sexy or pretty—are actually the products of systemic sexism. I also point out how racism and classism are mapped onto the grid of systemic discrimination.
3. Why do you write what you do?
For me, writing is thinking. I am driven to write by the desire to figure out what I think. Even when I’ve completed a piece of writing, I’m still always rewriting it, even if only in my head.
4. How does your writing process work?
I spend the bulk of my time finding people to interview, interviewing them (in person, over the phone, or via skype), transcribing the interviews, reading academic journal articles and other scholarly work, typing up my notes, and then going back and doing more interviews. I end up with hundreds of pages of transcripts and notes. I print them out and mark them up according to theme. Then I cut and paste the material to create new documents organized thematically.
I transcribe interviews the old-fashioned way: I listen to my tapes (yes, I use old-fashioned micro-cassettes with an old-fashioned tape recorder, which I connect to my phone for phone interviews), and I type what I hear. If I had a dollar every time someone tried to persuade me to use computer software for transcription…. I don’t trust a computer to make sense of human speech; I also find that transcribing an interview is a second chance to get inside the head of the interviewee, a process that helps me understand her experience. Finally, I find it disrespectful to take something so precious—a recording of the words spoken by someone who trusts me to guard her intimate, personal story—and feed it to a computer.
For me, the act of writing in the narrow sense—sitting at a keyboard and crafting sentences and paragraphs and chapters—occupies a very small proportion of my time. After I’ve sorted through the transcripts and research, and I’ve created my thematic documents, I know what I want to say and I know how I want to say it. At that point, the words glide out.
I’m thrilled to announce that Shira Tarrant, PhD, will be blogging next week. Shira is an unconventional feminist redefining gender justice. Her books, including Men and Feminism; Fashion Talks; and Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power, highlight contemporary sexual politics. She is currently at work on Gender, Sex, and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century (Routledge) and The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press).
Shira’s commentary is featured on global media such as AlterNet, In These Times, Canadian Broadcast Corporation, NBC, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Sydney Morning Herald, and on radio stations in Los Angeles, New York, Berkeley, Houston, and elsewhere around the country. Shira is an associate professor in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach. Read more at http://shiratarrant.com.
Shira was very supportive of me when I worked on I Am Not a Slut. I am delighted to participate in this blog tour with her.
August 27, 2014