I’ve had a love affair with the written word as long as I can remember. My mother taught me to read when I was three – she would cook dinner and I’d read a book aloud to her. That’s where it all began for me, with those wonderful memories reading books aloud to my mom.
When I was a kid, I got started writing short stories. In junior high and high school, I was one of those rare students who actually enjoyed writing essays. I had a fantastic AP English teacher who would give us “50-cent words” to define and find synonyms and antonyms for. It seemed so cool to me that one word could have so many “cousins.” I was the editor of my high school yearbook, wrote a column for the local paper, and then started writing feature articles. I had my first magazine article published when I was 25, and it’s just grown from there. My first book was published in 1990, and there’ve been three more since then. My most recent book – Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World - gave rise to this blog.
When Micaela over at MindfulMomma.com told me about a blog tour giving writers a chance to describe their writing process, I jumped at the chance to participate. I loved reading her own post, and those of the other writers who have contributed to the tour. You can find more from them if you follow the hashtag #mywritingprocess on Twitter. Meanwhile, here are my answers to the four questions all the authors on the tour are answering. I hope you’ll leave comments with your own answers. I’d love to hear about your writing process, too.
What are you working on?
I’m always working on several projects at once. I write for a living, which means I’m constantly producing blog posts and feature articles, emails and pieces for my newsletter. I answer questions about green living on Answers.com and write for Moms Clean Air Force, too. There are the inevitable tweets and Facebook posts as well. Even though those are very short compared to everything else, they still take time and creativity. It would be easy to make them “pro forma,” (i.e., dull) so I try to make them a little more interesting!
I’m also working on a couple of new books. I’ve been keeping diaries on each of my kids since they were in utero. I want to turn those into a book that’s just about each of them before they get married and have their own kids.
I’ve got a book in the works about my ancestors, as well. I want to finish that up before I tackle a new series of books that have to do with more ways we can use the power of our purse to protect the planet.
How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
On my blog, my focus is increasingly to make the connection between green living and saving money. I’ve done a lot of research on why people don’t make more green choices. Often it boils down to the misconception that people can’t afford to go green. In reality, people can save over $5,000 a year by being green. If I and others can get that message across, we could see many more people choosing safer, cleaner, greener products. My latest project has been an ebook that highlights thirteen simple green shifts people can make that will save them a lot of money. Big Green Purse is not about spending more money, but shifting whatever we do spend to greener products and services. As much as possible, I compare the non-green, conventional option to the more eco-friendly choice.
My books are also very practical guides. Some people are great at writing more prosaic pieces or sharing very personal details about their own lives. I certainly share my own experiences, but I’m more likely to put together a “top ten” list than to reveal an embarrassing secret!
Why do you write what you do?
I was sort of raised as an activist. My parents never used those words, but they both made it clear that we should stand up to injustice and take a stand for what we believed was right. I’ve worked as a grassroots organizer and an entrepreneur, but I keep coming back to writing as the way that I feel I can have the biggest impact. Plus, I find that writing helps me clarify my own thinking about things. I often write about issues that I want to understand better, or use my writing to answer questions that perplex me.
I focus on the environment for a lot of reasons. I love Nature and get my spiritual sustenance from being in the natural world, especially on the beaches of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, where my father’s family is from, or from Assateague Island National Seashore. My mother (there she is again!) was very compassionate when it came to protecting animals, and some of that rubbed off on me! But also, when I was growing up in Michigan, we were “accidentally” exposed to fire retardants in the milk we drank. It seemed so wrong that children could be tainted by drinking something as simple as a glass of milk! I grew up and wanted to do something to reduce the chances that other kids would have to drink contaminated milk.
Even though I’ve toyed with fiction writing, I think my strength is in writing a persuasive narrative that makes a compelling case for taking action that will make a difference.
How does your writing process work?
The process depends on the project. Blog writing is completely different from writing a book. Blogs are very much contemporary – they’re often a reaction to what is happening right then and there. Or, they chronicle something I’m doing in daily life. I try to keep to an editorial calendar and, of course, stay tuned in to what the Big Green Purse community wants to know, so that my blog remains relevant to people day-to-day.
When I’m writing a book, it all starts with that “a ha!” moment. Some idea will have been percolating in the back of my mind for a while and all of a sudden it becomes very clear what I should do with it. When that happens, I usually write it down, then continue rolling it around for a while until I can actually “see” it in my mind’s eye. If I do decide to tackle it as a book project, I’ll do more research, then write a proposal and a sample chapter.
I have a book agent, so I’ll always run my book ideas past her to see if she thinks they have any commercial prospects. Thus far, I’ve had four books published, all by major publishing houses, though I self-published one book before it was picked up and republished. It’s a huge and all-consuming time commitment to write a book so I’ve really got to love the idea to want to turn it into a book.
I used to write just on my desktop computer, but I’ve since switched to a MacBook Pro, which I love! I used to spend the day in the library or at the local coffee shop just to get away from my desk. But now, I’ve hooked up a second monitor to my laptop. It’s great for researching and for referring to other documents I’ve created, but it keeps me somewhat tethered to my home office, since I can’t move the second monitor very easily.
Probably the biggest challenge is to stay focused. It’s pretty easy to get distracted by housework or the neighbors or snacks when you work at home! Plus, if I’m not careful, I’ll spend an entire day writing one 750-word blog post, even though that’s neither productive nor economical. I keep a kitchen timer on my desk and set it for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to help me finish a post in a reasonable amount of time. When I’m researching a new book, I give myself a little more leeway, since the research process needs to be more time consuming. But even with my books, I set up research and writing deadlines so the project doesn’t drag on and on.
Until three weeks ago, I had a wonderful dog named Heaven who would sit on my feet, right under my desk, when I wrote. I loved being able to reach down and pet her when I was trying to think of a word or phrase. She died from kidney failure just shy of her tenth birthday. I’ll be writing a post about her soon.
Don’t forget – to read more great posts about writing, follow #mywritingprocess. And please let us know how you write!