Julie Schwietert Collazo
Apologies to Lily Girma, who invited me, more than a month ago, to participate in a “blog hop” of writers. I was supposed to post my contribution on April 21 and here we are, five weeks later, and I’m just getting in on the game. More about how that may reflect on my process in a moment.
But first, the blog hop. The way I’ve been thinking about this project is that it’s the digital equivalent of chain letters that my generation liked to send around when we were in elementary school… except this is cooler and more useful (one hopes). The idea is that each writer who is invited to participate then turns around and invites three other writers to talk about their process, but since I was often the person in elementary school who ended up disrupting the chain letter, I’ll probably play that role here, too, unless you’re a writer friend who hasn’t participated yet and you’d like to.
So here’s how the blog hop works: Each writer answers four questions. That’s it. I already write a lot (not lately, though) about the writing and editing processes–and, specifically, my writing and editing processes–over on my other blog Cuaderno Inedito (no, that blog is not written in Spanish). I’m fascinated by people’s processes, especially those of “creative” people, and I’d like to think that by sharing my own processes, I’ve contributed to other writers’ development, too. I encourage you to scroll through the archives there and sign up for new posts (yes, there will be more); in the meantime, here are my answers to the blog hop questions.
1. What am I writing now?
Right now–as in this week–I’m doing research and writing for several articles for The Latin Kitchen, one of my regular outlets. I’m finessing a couple of queries that were received well by editors at major national publications who have asked for some extra details. I’m following up with sources for two new assignments: publication profiles for MediaBistro’s “How to Pitch” service. I’m finalizing plans for two research trips and I’m also researching two feature-length assignments. As you see, then, being a writer isn’t always about writing. One of the many perks of my job is that it also involves lots of reading.
I also need to be thinking about how I’m going to promo my forthcoming guidebook to New York State, but I haven’t quite gotten around to that yet.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The “genre” question gets increasingly tricky each year, as I continue to diversify the subjects about which I write and the publications where they are published. I write about (in no particular order of preference): food and farming; travel; science, the environment, and technology; Latin America; arts and culture (from hanging-on-hallowed-walls exhibits to obscure street art); politics; and profiles of people and organizations. I write about these topics for a variety of publications and formats (print and online), and I write books, too.
What unifies all of my topical interests and is consistent about my approach regardless of the “seriousness” of the outlet where my byline appears is my curiosity about and commitment to the overlooked. Sometimes, that means a place, person, or project who has completely eluded the gaze of mainstream media. Sometimes, it means an overlooked aspect of the life or work of someone who’s regularly in the headlines. What I’m always driving for is the story that hasn’t been told, the backstory, or understory, or the hidden story. I’ve often used a kitchen metaphor to describe my approach: While everyone’s interested in the star chef, I’m interested in his or her support team.
Finally, even when I’m being critical, I hope that my work is set apart by its respectfulness, both for my subjects and for the responsibility and potential impact of reporting. There have been questions I’ve been dying to ask subjects that I haven’t asked, simply because I didn’t think they were appropriate… no matter how much a reader may want to know the answers. There have been stories entrusted to me that I would have loved to have shared, but I understood that doing so would put someone at risk, a risk to which they had not consented. And there are stories I haven’t pitched or published yet because they require time, research, and immersion I haven’t been able to devote to them yet.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do because I’m not sure there’s any other profession that allows a person to explore and indulge in such a wide range of interests. I also write what I do because it’s important to me that overlooked stories find a platform for being shared, and in all of my work (I was a creative arts therapist who focused on writing therapy before I was a freelance writer), I’ve always worked to be the conduit through which someone could find their voice and literally articulate his or her story. I write what I do because I want to make sure that certain stories don’t slip into obscurity. And I write, period, because I don’t know how to experience and process the world without seeing everything as a story. That switch–the one that makes me ask about everything, “What’s the story here?”–never turns off.
4. How does my writing process work?
I’m not sure that writing is a process for me, as much as it is a lifestyle, by which I mean that I am always writing, if not on paper or screen, then in my head. But in terms of what one colleague has accurately described as “ass to chair” time (meaning, the time spent actually writing), my process isn’t at all precious or picturesque. My desk, which I share with my husband, is in the middle of our living room, which means that it’s piled high with whatever we’re both reading at the time, as well as one or two cameras, stacks of notebooks, research materials, business cards, and all sorts of daily living detritus (which, at present, includes a pair of our son’s socks–clean, thankfully– a near empty tube of hydrocortisone, admission badges from a museum we visited this weekend, and a bag of jacks, sans ball). I’d love to tell you that I have some sort of fine-tuned routine, but when you have two kids and a husband who also works at home, you just write when you can. Sometimes the kids fall asleep at 10:30 and you write like mad until 2 am, but your husband wants to talk about an idea that occurred to him, and in the telling, he needs to show you an Ali boxing video from 1975 that’s 16 minutes long. In short: I write when I can and have mastered fitting into two or four hours what takes many people twice as much time. I am also the master of the stolen moment… and of typing one-handed while I hold one kid on my lap.
Want to know more about what and where I write? Here’s the complete list.