Motherhood & Words

I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, but I have been writing blog posts in my head, so hopefully you will see a flurry of activity here soon.

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about my writing and my process. The wonderful Rachael Hanel invited me to join a writing process meme. Rachael and I met through social media. She’s another Minnesota author, and her first memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: A Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, was out last spring from University of Minnesota Press. (It’s near the top of my teetering stack of books on my desk, so I’m hoping to get to it soon.) Thanks for inviting me to do this, Rachael! (You can read Rachael’s post here.)

This tour is great because you can click back and follow the blog trail, reading about each writer’s process and work. It’s fascinating, and I have a whole new list of writers whose work I want to read. But be warned: hours can pass.

So here it goes:

1) What am I working on? 

I’m working a couple of things right now. The first is a novel—my first novel. It’s been slow going for a while, but in January I received a Minnesota Arts Board Grant to help me dedicate more time to it, and that’s been huge. It took me a while to get back into the swing of the writing, but now I try to work on the novel each weekday morning before I turn to my other projects. I’m still very much at the beginning of the process, but I’m loving it.

I’m also working on a collaborative project, which I’ve mentioned here before. It’s a memoir about running and autism, and I am co-writing it. We’re still in the proposal phase, but last week as I was working on the chapter summary, I figured out the frame of the book, which was a needed breakthrough and has given me some new energy around the project.

This year I’d also love to play with a couple of short essays. I’ve got a few ideas kicking around in my head, and I’d love to get those down on paper. I miss the short form, and I think working on a couple of short pieces will help me bring the playfulness back into my work.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?  

All of my work has to do with the complex realities of women’s lives. For years I’ve been focused on motherhood in my writing and also in my work as a teacher and editor. I’ve really tried to expand the reach of motherhood literature, to fight for its place in the literary world. That’s still my passion, but in my own writing, I’m ready to expand my focus a little in terms of subject matter and also play with form and structure (both in short nonfiction pieces and in the novel).

3) Why do I write what I do? 

I’m a memoirist at heart. I love mining my own life for meaning. I love to dive into a memory that I thought I had lost and write my way into some kind of understanding. I believe in the power of personal narrative, and love the sense of community that arises when we write our truth.

With that said, I have been having so much fun with fiction. It’s so liberating to be able to make things up, to imagine, to let a character inch her way inside me, to show me what she knows. It’s coming at truth from a different angle, and I love that.

4) How does my writing process work?

 My process has been different for each book. With Ready for Air, I spent months just vomiting images and memories—snippets—onto the page. I didn’t worry at all about structure at the beginning; I just wrote. Then after I had 50 or so pages, I saw that there was a shape developing and I began to rearrange the snippets. Then I filled in what was missing. All of this took an incredible amount of time, of course. I had a full draft that I then revised. But what was most helpful was to have a year away from the manuscript. That time away really helped me see what the book was about. After I understood that, I printed it out, and wrote it again from the beginning, which took another two and a half years.

Use Your Words was different because it grew out of my Motherhood & Words class. So the chapters grew out of the lectures and also from various presentations I’d given over the years. Because I had done so much writing already, this book came together quite quickly. I did the bulk of the writing in about six months.

The novel is exciting because I never know what’s going to come out when I sit down to write. I have broad stroke ideas about the plot, but I’m still very much getting to know my main character, so I love sitting down and just letting her show me who she is. With this book, I’m revising as I go. When I get feedback from my writing group, I try to implement it immediately, and then move on. I realize, of course, that I might need to trash sections based on where the story ends up. But for now, I start my work by reading and revising and then moving on to new writing. So fun!


The three writers I’m tagging are Marilyn Bousquin, Andrea Lani, and Sarah Wells. Each will write about their own work and writing process next week, so please check out their wonderful blogs on Monday, March 31st.

Marilyn Bousquin is a rock star. I met her in 2009 when she took my Motherhood & Words class, and wow! She went on to get her MFA and then founded Writing Women’s Lives. You can read a little about why she does what she does here. I promise you’ll love her. Check out her post here next week.

Andrea Lani is another rock star former student who went on to get her MFA. She’s primarily writing fiction now, but I love her nonfiction, which often explores motherhood and the natural world. Her writing has appeared in OrionKindred, and Brain, Child, among others. You can read her writing process post here.

Sarah Wells is crazy prolific. She writes nonfiction and poetry. She’s also the Administrative Director for the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University and Managing Editor for the Ashland Poetry Press and River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. I interviewed Sarah here in January, so please check that out if you haven’t already. And you can read about Sarah’s process here next week.

Again, thanks to Rachael for tagging me!

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Rachael on March 24, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Good for you for tackling fiction! I admire that! I’m sure it’s nice to do something different and exercise different brain muscles.

    • Kate on March 24, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      It’s more fun than I thought it would be!

  2. Sarah on March 24, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Fiction! Awesome! I haven’t dabbled in fiction since I was an undergraduate, and I have wondered what it would be like to throw myself into a fiction project. I have absolutely no idea what kind of a book it would turn out to be, but maybe someday? Can’t slam any doors shut, right?

    • Kate on March 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Absolutely, Sarah! And it’s fun!

  3. Sara on March 24, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    I’ve been a bit envious at times as I see your pieces dovetailing so nicely, your teaching and blog about motherhood writing, your book on the same subject, your memoir about motherhood. Do think creating a focus or niche for yourself makes it harder to break into something new? (Either breaking down walls for yourself or others?)

    I think the fact that you wrote the whole book (Ready for Air) and revised it and took a year away and then figured out what it is really about is both encouraging and discouraging as I try to figure out what I’m really writing about. It reminds me I’ll eventually figure it out, but I just want to know now.

    • Kate on March 25, 2014 at 10:57 am

      Sara, I don’t think it will be hard to break into something new–at least it doesn’t feel hard yet. I love the ways the different things I do speak to each other…

      And yes, give yourself that time and space to muck around. I know it’s frustrating, but taking the time will make it a better book!

  4. Janine Kovac on March 24, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    What a cool idea! I love reading about others’ writing process. Whether I identify with it or not, it is always inspirational to me. Can’t wait to read the other blog posts!

    • Kate on March 25, 2014 at 10:57 am

      Thanks, Janine! Yes, I love it, too!

  5. Sue on March 25, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I am very interested into your foray into fiction. I feel like I am missing that imagination piece, or maybe there’s just too much of the real stuff I need to muddle through first.

    • Kate on March 26, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Sue, some CNF folks aren’t interested in fiction at all. But I definitely think there is something to getting your story down first and out into the world. Then you might feel differently about fiction. But maybe not!

  6. Andria on March 25, 2014 at 2:40 pm


    • Kate on March 26, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Ha! I’m not sure about that, Andria. But I sure am having fun!

  7. Lucia on March 25, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    I’ve been told. . . Fiction is created in a different location in the brain, different from the place where memoir is developed. That’s why, if my phone rings while I’m writing an essay, I’m startled. Then I can answer the phone. If my phone rings while I’m writing fiction, for some moments I literally don’t know where I am.

    • Kate on March 26, 2014 at 9:45 am

      Ah, Lucia, that makes sense to me! Thanks for posting that.

  8. Marilyn Bousquin on March 26, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Kate, I love this insight into your writing process and to see the bigger picture of where your pen has been and where its leading you now. Fiction. Such an incredible art that demands (no less than memoir) emotional honesty and integrity. Can’t wait to hear more of the nitty gritty about your characters and their lives. Thanks for tagging me, sweet you. I’m looking forward to taking a closer look at my own process. xo, M
    p.s. Lucia, your comment about the phone is fascinating!

    • Kate on March 26, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      Yes Marilyn, I love the way you put it: “Such an incredible art that demands (no less than memoir) emotional honesty and integrity.” And I can’t wait to read about your process!

  9. Suzanne Hoffman on March 31, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    “….writing blog posts in my mind…” Love that! I do it all the time, but it’s marrying the posts in my mind with my computer that often proves a little daunting!

    • Kate on April 8, 2014 at 5:37 am

      Yes, Suzanne! Exactly!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Kathleen on April 1, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I found reading about the writing process very interesting and helpful. I love your enthusiasm . . . and it is so contagiously inspiring!

    • Kate on April 8, 2014 at 5:38 am

      Oh Kathleen, thank you! I’m so looking forward to seeing you at River Teeth!