Thanks to Katie O’Rourke, a brilliant Fiction writer working on her third book, for inviting me to participate in the “My Writing Process Blog Tour”. Read Katie’s response to the tour and discover more about her books featuring complex characters navigating life at: katieorourke.blogspot.com
Writing to me is an ever-evolving practice. To be honest, I often feel like I’m rarely in the lead, instead it’s like venturing into a place that scares me and then trying to go back there again and again.
1) What are you working on?
I am working on a book for social justice activists around self-care.
2) How does you work differ from others of its genre?
This book is shaping into a blend of non-fiction, memoir and well, self-help. I’ve interviewed over 40 diverse activists from around the country who define themselves as social workers, activists, radicals, mothers, and many other things. I was fascinated with themes that became apparent, as well as unique perspectives that were often left out of the literature I’d read so far. I am delving into these personal and work-world challenges while also integrating my own experience with burnout and transition.
3) Why do you write what you do?
There aren’t a lot of books which deal with self-care and work/life balance for people who work on social change. When I was going through my own struggle, I kept reading self-help books which may have had some useful perspectives, but lacked practical advice for me because I wasn’t working a typical 8-5 job and spent my days focused not on making money but on helping others.
Writers are often advised to make their writing as universal as possible, but I’m rejecting that advice. How work, especially social change work, is happening has significantly changed in the span of a generation. As our society shifts more and more from systems that were once set up to function as charity-based organizations (501c3’s), now fulfil everything from direct care services to advocacy needs. Many of us are now working in non-profit system which looks very different than was originally envisioned. We have a workforce of typically young people working to help shift priorities in communities and government. However, especially with the more radical work being done, there are less people over the age of 40 maintaining jobs/careers in this work. All this to say that the books we have about self-care which are written in a general way for “workers” don’t actually speak to many people’s experience of work which has shifted to this non-profit system.
Self-care is in itself an act of social change that must be a foundation for everything else we hope to create. It is a deeply intimate and challenging practice. Integrating self-care into our lives affects everyone and everything we interact with and often dealing with the pushback and consequences is a practice in itself.
I’m curious about these observations. I’m curious about what it means when we lose elders as integral leaders in movements. I want to explore what it means when we rely on a non-profit system to maintain social change work. I want to delve into how it is possible to integrate balance into our day-to-day lives and how we do this in “real life” with our families, our work and ourselves. In addition, I’ve been frustrated that the writing/guidance generally out there doesn’t actually reflect the diversity of the people who do social change work. It’s important to me to talk about exercise, for example, from the perspective that not everyone can take a walk, or write about the struggle in trying to meet multi-generational family expectations. It’s not about including every single perspective but at least writing from a place where there is an expectation of difference. I’m exploring the range of questions from the personal to the community level and I’m hopeful that it will be something useful to add to this always-growing body of work.
4) How does your writing process work?
Listening to music or reading poetry is always helpful in getting me started. I like listening to soft music like Eleanor Murray, Lia Ices or harder music like Rage Against the Machine or Ojos de Brujo to start out my writing time.
When I approach my writing, I tend to follow the questions. As a Disabled writer and artist, when I can work is often out of my control. I’m learning to be available to show up when it’s the right time to work. If I’m not writing, I try to be talking with others about topics and seeing how they experience challenges or social expectations. I’m also lucky to have a partner who will read my writing and help me to go deeper into the questions and he’ll offer comments from a totally different perspective. Feedback, research and being open to new directions are all invaluable tools to my process.
I’m also an artist and poet, so I’ve worked hard at allowing what I often feel is “unproductive” energy/time to go towards those pursuits. It’s an on-going journey for me to value my writing self as much as my artist self.
I find myself rediscovering a simple truth time and time again, that I create nothing alone. Community, friends and spiritual forces in the universe support me to do this work and for that, I am eternally grateful.