I Absolutely Can Make the Time
An interview with online student Amy Rodriguez
by Sara Button
Creative Nonfiction: How did you get your start writing?
Amy Rodriguez: I have always loved writing—whether it be writing words on scraps of paper, letters, journals, or notes-to-self. I am constantly imagining the full story behind people around me. But it wasn't until I stopped teaching middle school English to stay home with my son eight years ago that I began to write with a purpose. I started writing down the thoughts that swirled through my head when I was up in the night with him. I took a class at Boston's Grub Street and joined a phenomenal writers' group that spun off from that class.
CNF: What does your writing process look like?
AR: I wish I had more of a writing process. After six years of writing off and on, it seems like my lack of process might actually be my process. I have tried committing to certain times of day or days, and I just can't. That being said, I still do write. There is just no day or time or pattern to it. I love Anne Lamott's quote: "How to write: Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair."
I do much better keeping my butt in a chair (and therefore am more prone to writing) when I am not in my house. At home, I wander, I snack, and I get distracted by laundry and dishes. The coffee shop is my ultimate writing space. I love the energy; I love imagining the stories of people around me. I love writing when I'm surrounded by people. Libraries are also heaven to me. There is nothing I can do but write (or read, which is also good for writing). Taking my laptop outside where there is no Internet access is perfect. I have no choice but to write. And when all else fails, I am still a huge a fan of putting pen to paper. I always have a notebook with me, and I frequently jot down quotes or images that strike me.
CNF: You took a writing boot camp over the summer—did your experience in that class change the way you approached your work or submissions?
AR: Last summer, I took a ten-week boot camp with Waverly Fitzgerald. It is one of the best things I have ever done for my writing. I never thought I would love an online class. I wasn't sure I would feel any connection to people whom I had never met. I couldn't have been further off. The chemistry of our group was fantastic. I looked forward to reading more from each fellow student each day. We really worked hard to encourage and help one another. It was exciting to see one another's writing develop over the course of ten weeks because we were all writing so much.
It made me realize that, when given direction, I absolutely can make the time to write every day. The mix of having a prompt (which was optional), being held accountable, and having readers to read my work and writers whose work I could read was the perfect set-up for me. I thrive when I am both receiving and giving feedback. The instructor's feedback was both incredibly encouraging and helpful. Because I wrote so often, I was not focused on what the outcome of each piece would be. I wrote for the sake of writing, without worrying about my audience or possible places to submit. Because I was able to do that, I was able to create a number of pieces from that class that went on to be published.
CNF: How did writing very short pieces on a daily basis for boot camp turn into having publishable pieces?
AR: Until boot camp, I had never written a piece longer than 1200 words. I had wanted to write the story about the Mad Russian for a long time, but it seemed too overwhelming. Writing 300 words a day broke it down into easy parts. It ended up being a little over 2000 words, which was the perfect length for Salon.
I have also written thousands of words about my husband's episode of transient global amnesia. I continue to work on editing that piece, but I got the story down solely because of boot camp.
CNF: Speaking of publishing, can you tell us a bit about your experience with the venues that published your work you developed during Boot Camp? What was the editorial process like?
AR: I feel very fortunate to have had one of my boot camp essays published on Salon and two on The Mid. The editorial process was easy—minimal because I had so much feedback on my work from the instructor and fellow students during boot camp. When I submitted them, they were pretty much the final product. The editors were positive and enthusiastic.
CNF: Can we find your work anywhere else at the moment?
AR: I'm currently transitioning my writing and my blog. I spent the past few years writing mostly about parenting. Now that my children are older, I won't be writing about them as much. I need to focus on new subject matter.