Monday, April 14, 2014

Patty Chang Anker on Her Nervy Creative Process #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour

I'm so excited to be a part of this month's #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour, where writers from across genres and continents talk about how they write. Today I'm featuring the incredible Patty Chang Anker, one of my costars in Listen To Your Mother, whose debut book, Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, was called "downright inspiring" by (OPRAH! DOT COM!), and was chosen as a Book of the Day by Elizabeth "Eat Pray Love" Gilbert.

As a fellow non-genetically-predisposed-to-bravery (let's not say coward, shall we?) woman, I so identified with Patty's struggle, and it didn't hurt that she wrote with incredible warmth and humor. I cannot wait to see what she tackles next!

OK, enough fangirling out; now I'll let Patty take over in her own words (she has a way with them...)

What am I working on? 

Right now I’m working on blog pieces for (about overcoming anxiety during the learning process), (about Team #SomeNerve training for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour), and Facing Forty Upside Down (about finding community as a way to fight fear). I’m also preparing a talk, and drafting content for the paperback of Some Nerve. The long term thinking, working, revising a book length project have turned into quick turnarounds for shorter pieces, mostly about how to apply the “lessons learned while becoming brave” in our lives. It’s fun to take the stories from the book out into the world.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work is part immersion memoir, part journalism, part self-help. It’s different from most memoir because it’s set in the present and is as much focusd on other people as me. It’s different from most journalism in that while I do often observe classes, therapy sessions, and other interactions without interfering and I do interview experts in traditional settings, I also actively participate at times. I will introduce someone with a fear of driving to a driving instructor, or take friends with a fear of heights to a ropes course. I set story lines in motion without knowing what’s going to happen and then write about what does. And it’s different from most self-help in that the information, whether it’s techniques from Toastmasters or psychological approaches used by therapists, is related by what it’s like for me or others to experience these things and not through case studies or tip sheets.

Why do I write what I do? 

I write what I need to read. I need to acknowledge all the crazy talk in my head, poke a little fun at myself, figure out how to find strength to push forward when I’m scared, have enjoyable--even peak--experiences more often, find out how other people tick, imagine being different tomorrow from today, and then commit all of this in writing so that my girls will remember me as more than “Mom sure was tired.” I’ve been through many periods of feeling alone--and I write to reach anyone else who feels that way, to tell them it’s ok, come out into the sunshine, come laugh with us and we’ll become brave together.

How does my writing process work?

For quick short pieces I write well during the day while the kids are at school but for the book, the old “butt in chair” and “writing is a job show up for your job” or “every day set a timer produce X number of words” advice didn’t work at all. I found the enormity of writing 100K coherent words on deadline overwhelming, and when things needed to be done for the house or the kids once interrupted I couldn’t pick up again. I was so consumed by what I call my Greek Chorus of Perpetual Doubt--“You can’t do this, you don’t know how, another day is gone, tick, tick TICK”--showing up for my job left me exhausted and actually steps behind from where I was the day before. I realized I needed to forge my own way, which was to focus on research until I felt ready to write. This took 8 months out of the 14 I had before my deadline and was nerve wracking. I’ve always performed best close to deadline but it’s one thing to do that for a term paper, it’s another for an entire book! But I’m glad I allowed myself to just be in the field because once you’ve fully absorbed the experiences the stories take root and the brain makes connections to other stories from your past and before you know it elaborate plots with fully developed characters are alive and begging to come out. Once I was ready I wrote when I felt most free to write – at night when I was least likely to be interrupted, when everyone else’s needs were met and I wasn’t expected to be productive. I wrote until 4 in the morning, alone and in the dark but laughing and weeping with all these people I’d grown to care so much about, remembering incredible stories of them at their most courageous, feeling less alone than I’ve ever felt.

So much of writing is getting out from under the guilt that we should be doing something else, or we should be doing this a whole lot better. I say wherever and whenever you can push through that secret bookcase that leads you to a hidden room where you feel most free, that’s where and when to write.


Patty tagged me (obviously), and Ava Chin, a native New Yorker who is the author of Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal (coming in May), which Kirkus Reviews called “A delectable feast of the heart.” The Urban Forager blogger for the New York Times, her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Saveur, the Village Voice, and Martha Stewart online. She blogs about foraging, green living, and DIY-food at

I'll be posting my own answers (and tagging more kick-ass writers) next Monday, so come on back, y'all, ya hear?

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