Come dive into a sea of words and swim toward a new understanding of the writing process.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
One Writer’s Process: Francesca Lia Block
Francesca Lia Block, the highly acclaimed author who the L.A. Times
describes as “a Los Angeles writer with a unique voice that blends lush
imagery, hip fairy tales and punk poetic lyricism,” the writing process
is almost like meditation and very healing.
I’m writing,” says Block, who is known for her Weetzie Bat books, and
who has received the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award, the
Phoenix Award, and numerous other awards for her work, “I forget about
my worries, physical or emotional pain. I feel centered and complete.”
of her work is autobiographical, she admits, the poems almost entirely
so. “I think depression creates in me an urgent need to write, but I
also believe that daily stress, and even the positive ‘stress’ of
intense happiness, can compel me to express myself through the written
Block first knew she wanted to be a writer in first grade.
“I had a beautiful young teacher named Miss Atlas who encouraged me to
write poetry. My parents had been encouraging my writing even before
It wasn’t until she went off to college at UC Berkeley
that she wrote Weetzie Bat, which she sent off to a friend who forwarded
it to Charlotte Zolotow at Harper & Row.
“She decided to publish it as a YA book,” says Block. “That opened the door for all my other stories.”
Bat, says Block, emerged out of her feelings of nostalgia while at
college for her friends, family and life in L.A. “I was using the story
as a way to comfort myself. It was a very personal book, a somewhat dark
fairy tale I told myself.”
subconscious offers her names for her characters for the most part, she
says, but she will also find names in things that she notices around
her. “Like My Secret Agent Lover Man came from graffiti written between
the tiles in the grout at the UC Berkeley library: ‘My Secret Agent
Lover Man you will never read this.’ There are names everywhere, inside
of us and outside of us, waiting to be discovered.” Block
says she doesn’t want her characters to provide moral lessons for
readers. Rather, she says, she simply wants the characters to be
“transformed in some way.” If she writes about gay male characters, it’s
just because they are part of her life, she says. “I'm not trying to
make a statement. I just believe in acceptance and openness and not
harming each other.”
a teenager, she read Anaïs Nin, who was a huge influence, and she loved
the work of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, too, as well as poets like
H.D. and Emily Dickinson. Her parents subscribed to a monthly poetry
periodical, and in its pages she discovered the work of Denise Levertov,
who was influential in her development as a writer, too.
music plays a large part in her work, Block says she doesn’t listen to
it while writing. She remembers listening to Joni Mitchell and Cat
Stevens as a young girl. And she says that she loved Iggy Pop, Tori
Amos, PJ Harvey, Sinead O’Connor and Patti Smith. She considers them her
books, which are realistic yet fantastical at the same time, she tries
to “honor the dark and the light, the real and the fantastic. When I
read One Hundred Years of Solitude, I was so excited to see how Gabriel
García Márquez did that. I've always tried to include both in everything
As for advice to writers, she suggests: “Write your ass
off. Read. Find a group to help support you through the process. Love
it as much as almost anything in your life.”
Block was kind enough to take time away from her works-in-progress to share some thoughts on writing with wordswimmer:
Wordswimmer: If writing is like swimming, how do you get into the water each day?
Block: I don't think about it and just jump, no matter how cold it is.
Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?
Block: The treasure at the bottom of the sea.
Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?
Block: Dry spells are when I need water the most so I just dive in. Sometimes I bring a friend.
Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?
Block: Finding a source of oxygen (inspiration) when you have to swim every single day.
Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?
Block: We're never really alone. The support and inspiration of my loved ones and heroes is always with me.
Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?
Thanks to the editors of Dogs Naturally Magazine for sharing my story, "What A Dog Can Teach Us," in the September-October, 2015 issue.
Chicken Soup for the Soul
Many thanks to the editors of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less for including another one of my stories, "Warming Up To Less," in the April, 2016 edition.
I'm grateful to the editors of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses (July, 2015) for including my story, "A Nurse Named Mary," about the hospice nurse who cared for my mother in the final days of her life.
Many thanks to the editors at Yogi Timesfor sharing my latest piece on how keeping a journal can help you make wise choices on your mat and in your life:
Thanks so much to all for your support and encouragement.
"Pour yourself like a fountain. Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins."
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
"Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea."
-- Jack Kerouac
"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
-- Andre Gide
"Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer—he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in." -- E. B. White
“My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.” -- Anne Lamott
"I want my reader to fall into what I've written like falling into water, to go down and down and down, to enter that underwater universe, to be transformed, to breathe like a sea creature, effortlessly slipping and sliding and swimming, a fish among fish." -- Norma Fox Mazer
"All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath." --F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to his daughter.
"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water." --Ernest Hemingway
"You can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water." --Rabindranath Tagore
"For true love is inexhaustible; the more you give, the more you have. And if you go to draw at the true fountainhead, the more water you draw, the more abundant is its flow." --Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“Patience, patience, patience is what the sea teaches.” --Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Honoring Our Writing Teachers
How often have you heard people say that writing can't be taught?
Yet writing is a craft that all of us have learned.
And if we're lucky, we've had a teacher who inspired us to spend a lifetime putting words on paper, a teacher who taught us to explore our minds and our hearts.
Do you remember the teacher who inspired you to write?
Why not share a brief story about him or her with other wordswimmer readers?
Join these writers who have kindly passed on their teacher's gift of inspiration:
Send your stories (250 words), along with a brief bio, to wordswimmer, and we'll take a look and post them as part of our effort to honor our writing teachers.
Write to Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An updated list for 2012 of "The Top 100 Creative Writing Blogs" includes Wordswimmer.
Thanks to the editors at Bestcollegesonline.com for including us in the "Improving Your Craft" category.
Thanks to all our contributors and readers who helped us find our way onto this list.
The Wading Pool
If you'd like to wade through Wordswimmer's past postings, you'll find a Subject Index at the bottom of this page.
Thanks for stopping by.
The Swimming Hole
Are you having trouble getting into the water or finding your rhythm? Confused over which direction to swim in? An online tutorial or workshop can help you dive into the water and swim at your own pace toward a new understanding of your story.
For more information, write: email@example.com.
A writer, editor, and teacher, Bruce Black earned his MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and now searches for words and stories on Florida's west coast, only a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico. His book for adults, Writing Yoga, was released in 2011, and his stories for children have appeared in Cricket and Cobblestone magazines. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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