In the days after my mom’s death, the people I found here on this beautiful world of pixels were quite literally live-saving for me. Becca Rowan was one of those people. Her quiet, wise blog posts soothed my spirit, and her support of my work and my life has never wavered – even though we’ve never met in person. I’m honored to call her my friend, and I hope you will see why as you read her words here.
My first book, Life In General, was just published this month (December 2014). It’s a collection of short, reflective essays about crossing the border into middle age. It’s my thoughts on aging, family, home, marriage, eldercare, and pursuing my passions in life. One reader described it as “funny, gentle, inspiring and totally authentic.”
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I must have come out of my mother’s womb with a book in my hand! I’ve loved to read since I can remember. As a child I was often sick, and reading was such a comfort. The library was just across the street from our house, and I spent many hours soaking up the wonderful sights and scents of books. When I was about 4 or 5 years old, my dad brought home an old Remington typewriter. I created an “office” in the attic of our house and would sit for hours happily typing away.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
Like most writers I know, I have to fit my writing life into my “life in general.” That means working around the needs of my home and family as well as around my work as a freelance technical writer and as a performing musician. I long for a writing routine, long to be able to carve out specific writing time every day. But most days, it’s simply catch as catch can…an hour or two in the morning between rehearsals, dog walking, and running errands.
The writing practice I am completely devoted to is morning pages. I spend 20 or 30 minutes writing every morning, stream of consciousness stuff about what I’m reading, what I’m planning to write next, what’s going on in my life. It’s a powerful tool for helping me generate ideas and clarify my thinking.
4. Who are you reading now?
I’m reading and studying memoirs right now, in preparation for a new book. I’ve recently read Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, Patricia Hampl’s The Florists Daughter, and Diane Keaton’s Then Again. I’m also working with Beth Kephart’s Handling the Truth, which is giving me so many ideas about the shape and structure this new book will take.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
There are SO many books I love and have read in the past six decades. But a book I come back to over and over again in my life is Mary Gordon’s Men and Angels. It’s a haunting novel from the 1980’s, and it explores how women combine the roles of artist and mother. Katrina Kenison’s Magical Journey has been pivotal for me in the past couple of years, as I’ve been writing Life In General. My favorite classic is The Great Gatsby. I think it’s the quintessential American novel.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I’m really active on social media, but mostly because it’s a good way for an introvert like me to maintain the connections I crave without having to leave the house! I don’t necessarily think of it as “platform building,” but as another way of interacting with people. Balance is key, and I struggle with that – the lure of the Internet at my fingertips is mighty powerful! Right now the scales are tipped in favor of spending more time on the social media platform because I’m connecting with readers and potential readers of Life In General.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
My daytime activities vary quite a bit, depending on the season. During the Christmas holidays, I’m always on the go with musical activities. In the summer, I have the luxury of long, quiet days, and that’s when a lot of writing gets done. But I religiously bookend my days with reading: I get up early every morning in order to have quiet time reading and writing, savoring hot coffee in a silent house. And I finish my day with a book, letting someone else’s story carry me off into sleep.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
I am so lucky to already have a bright, cozy “room of my own” in which to write. But if I were dreaming big, that space would be a quiet cottage with lots of windows overlooking sparkling water on one side and gentle rolling hills on the other; a long desk with space to spread out; a comfy chair close by with an ottoman big enough to rest my feet and also room for two little white dogs to curl up beside them.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I’ve had so much positive support for my writing during these recent years, and I feel fortunate in that. I critique myself a lot, and words like “worthless drivel” pop into my mind more often than I care to admit. With any critique, I try to determine if it’s coming from a place of genuine caring, whether if the person is trying to help me become a better writer of if they just want to be negative. Understanding their motivation certainly helps me process a response.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
I think writing is all about connecting. Telling our stories is the way we learn and celebrate our common ground and a way to encourage compassion and empathy. “The good writer,” Emerson wrote, “seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the universe which runs through himself and all things.” Write from your deepest feelings and look for ways your experience and your view of the world might connect with others and help them learn, grow, or understand the world in a new way.
Becca Rowan is a writer and author of the book Life In General. She is a Senior Editor at All Things Girl magazine, where she writes about books and home life. She is also a musician and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. Born and raised in southeastern Michigan, she currently lives in Northville (a suburb of Detroit) with her husband of 38 years and their two pampered Shih Tzus, Magic and Molly Mei.