I used to love NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Her smooth calming voice paired with her insightful questions motivated me on multiple occasions to purchase the book of her guest, be it Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection about grief after his mother’s death or Michael Pollan’s tome on psychedelic drug treatments.
But ever since starting my MFA in Creative Nonfiction here at the University of Iowa, interview shows like Fresh Air have started to feel flat. Don’t get me wrong, Terry Gross is still amazing and her conversations are still interesting, but her chats with her guests do not deliver the insights I am looking for. I have the urge to want to know “how” these amazing writers write what they write but an 45-minute to 1 hour long conversation can never get to the heart of a writer’s process, how exactly they put pen to paper and arrange the ink in the way that they do.
Writing to non-writers seems like a magical creative process. One moment there aren’t words and the next moment there are. But like any craft there is process and technique and tools that many of us use to help us say the things we want to say. The thing that I have learned here at Iowa with my cadre of amazing classmates is that the process varies widely from writer to writer. I have only been able to witness this diversity in approach after reading the work in progress, the throwaway writing exercises, and the pressureless free-writes of my friends.
During this Digital Studio Summer Fellowship, I am working on a podcast that tries to demystify how writers write. The show brings on two guests and invites them to write on a single prompt, for example “The feeling of home”. There are no expectations of aesthetic, structure, voice, or even genre. Over the hour-long episode, each writer will read their work and explain their thought process behind the decisions that they make. We will hear from writers who purely write by feel and instinct and from writers who are highly strategic and structural.
This podcast is an attempt at hybridity. It brings together art and process into the same space. Come to hear a writer read their work and stay for the conversation. The two writers along with me will react to the pieces, and through a casual conversation highlight the similarities and differences between the two guests’ processes.
As I start this project, I am thinking a lot about how to keep the conversation natural and welcoming. The general institution of creative writing MFAs have developed a focus on critique and feedback, but this podcast is meant to celebrate the fact that there’s no right way to write. The process can be fraught and infuriating enough, perhaps talking about it will help?