Monday, July 14, 2014

My Writing Process

Chris and I recently finished construction of a two-car garage (and conversion of our existing one-car garage into a mother-in-law suite). It was a several months-long project that finished up just in time for us to park under cover before the steering wheels became third-degree burn hazards. 

When I’d moved to Phoenix after law school in the summer of 2008, I hitched a U-Haul trailer to my car and towed it across the country, that 124 cubic feet holding everything I owned in the world. Chris had a small apartment’s worth of stuff, and we combined our belongings--as couples do--but had a number of boxes and bins that neither of us unpacked. We had a storage closet, and that’s where these things went. Later, we moved to a slightly larger apartment, then our first house, then this bigger house we’re in now, and still these bins and boxes of who-knows-what stayed sealed and on our to-do lists.  

During construction, we kept this extraneous stuff in storage along with other items--small furniture, our bikes, luggage--that had to be moved out of our house or garage to make way for the construction crew. So Chris made it a priority--a command really--that we would not move these bins and boxes back into our new garage without going through them first. 

When he was home between trips the last weekend of June, we spent a solid day while Quinn was at preschool making piles out of the contents of these containers: trash, donate, or keep. There were the bridesmaids dresses I’d worn in three separate weddings (none of which still fit, to my chagrin), all of the ski clothes I’ve owned since 1995 and haven’t used since before law school, several sets of duvet covers for that period in my twenties when it was the only way I could afford to redecorate, a good number of notebooks and saved exams from college, including the graded lab results from this catastrophe, and my journals, notes, and writings from creative writing classes I took in high school and college. 

I spent too long (stay on task, Campisano!) poring over these, wondering why I hadn’t focused more on my writing between then and cancer. Sure, I wrote advocacy letters and proposed legislation and, later, law school exams and a harmless-sounding “note” sixty pages long for law review. I wrote appeals to bankruptcy judges and proposed settlements and codes of conduct and policies on sexual harassment. But I wasn’t writing for myself.

Until my diagnosis.

And now I can’t stop writing for myself. 

Quinn and I are visiting my mother-in-law (more on my weekend walk in a few posts to come soon), and the fourteen year-old girl who lives across the street came over last week to entertain and play with Quinn. She wore a Batman bracelet I asked about. She told me the meaning, then said her “internet friend in Pennsylvania” had one just like it. 

I have those, too -- Internet friends, women I’ve never met (and a couple I have), whose stories are so woven into the fabric of my own story that when one asked me if I’d participate in this “Writing Process Blog Tour,” I didn’t hesitate even when I realized it was a chain letter-type thing, which are not my favorite. I didn’t hesitate because Joanna’s words so often speak to precisely what I’m feeling at the very moment I read them, it’s uncanny. I wanted to do this post, continue this thread, because I think our stories tether us to one another as human beings. 

Whether we are in Arizona or Tennessee or London or Nairobi, our stories connect us. This may be especially true in the cancer community. Stories inform, educate, offer solace, and call forth a cheering section. Stories can be an escape, an adventure, make us laugh, punch us in the gut, take us to faraway places, or bring us home. 

How and why I write now is intricately bound to this internet community and my friends who are also out there sharing their stories, putting on their brave faces. So I couldn’t help but do this post. 

Each of us bloggers was tasked with answering the following questions, then passing the torch on to three other writers/bloggers whose work we admire. Thanks for including me, Joanna.

  1. What are you working on now?
  2. The book, always the book. I’ve set a goal for myself to finish draft one by Labor Day, which seems so fitting. I’m also trying to keep this blog going, because I think it serves a different purpose--sharing pictures of Quinn, of course. I occasionally write for Huffington Post, or do guest blogs, too, which you can find here and here and here (!) this Friday, the 18th. There is also be a cool partnership in the works that I’m deeply excited about. 
  3. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  4. There are loads of mommy-bloggers out there, but I don’t know of any others with Stage 4 cancer. And there are a lot of cancer bloggers out there, many of them moms, some of them also living with Stage 4 breast cancer, but the pool really starts to narrow when we get to that point. I hope I bring a unique perspective to this sphere; it is something I am always considering. When I start to doubt myself, I remember this adage: everything has been done, but not everything has been done by you
  5. Why do I write what I do?
  6. I hope it helps. I love it when I get a note from a stranger saying my writing hits home, that she feels less alone in her fears because of what I’ve shared, that she’s also learning to take it day-by-day. I also write for less altruistic reasons: I write because I feel antsy when I don’t, better when I do, and I believe that processing all of the shit I’ve been through helps clear it out of my system, helps me be healthier. 
  7. How does my writing process work?
  8. It usually starts with one sentence. It always starts with a sentence, but what I mean is sometimes the beginnings of an idea will come to me at the most arbitrary times, so I do what I can to write them down, those sparks. Like Joanna, I rely on the Notes function on my phone a lot. For my blog posts, once I have an idea in mind, I typically write through in one fell swoop in a couple of hours or less, usually at night after Quinn has gone to bed and the dishes have been done and Orange is the New Black has been watched. Most of the time, the post needs some editing, so I give it another look in the morning, if Quinn’s at school, or in the afternoon if he happens to nap in the car, or the next night -- whenever I can get to it, really. For whatever reason, the book is different. The familiar, conversational voice of the blog doesn’t seem to translate to that format quite the same. I want to give more detail, so I have to research notes and journals and emails I’ve sent to get the facts straight. My process when it comes to the book is more tedious. I also want to make sure I’m not completely plagiarizing myself, so I try not to tell every story the same way I told it here. It is more painstaking, but it also (I hope) will tell a more complete story than I’ve been able to on my blog. The blog is fun; the book is work. I love them both, but they are different beasts.
To pass the torch along . . .

The first is Emily McDaid, a dear friend of mine from college who writes suspense novels, runs a PR firm, and raises two young children with her husband in a suburb of Belfast, an ocean away from where she grew up. In a word, she’s superwoman. She writes frankly and honestly about writing fiction and the grueling, humbling self-publishing process. She writes about living and raising her children in Ireland, and how it compares (and sometimes doesn't) to her home in upstate New York. 

Second is Lara Huffman, who writes the blog Get Up Swinging. Lara is one of my aforementioned Internet friends, and we’ve never met in person but one of these days I want to share our stories over a beer, in person. She is a feisty breast cancer survivor and incredible writer whose snark I love so much. Lara writes about breast cancer not only as a survivor but as a woman who lost her mom to the disease at a terribly young age. I can’t wait to see what she’ll write next.  

Finally, Beth Gainer is another woman I met through the online breast cancer community. Like me, Beth is a mom. Beth writes about her experiences and emotional state after cancer (and how there's never truly an "after") and motherhood on her blog, Calling the Shots. She is also a professor, a published author, and a patient advocate (it’s what her book is about--how to navigate our complicated healthcare system in the face of a terrifying diagnosis). Her posts are always insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully composed. 

Check out these writers, especially next week, when they'll be posting about their own writing process and introducing some of their favorite bloggers to keep this chain going. 


  1. Thanks for the suggested bloggers, I look forward to their next week's writings!

    1. You're welcome. I'm excited to see what they write, too!

  2. Our inherent, JHU-bred nerdiness never goes away. I more than occasionally struggle to make minor decisions without inordinate research. Let it serve you well.