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On Process: Andrew Gregory Krzak

May 6, 2019

Process should be the most important part of any artistic endeavor because creativity needs surprise to thrive. One cannot be surprised if they are too rigid in the creation process. As a result, I believe a writer should leave intentionality and structure and all of that behind until enough sculptural material is generated to truly shape something: It is through editing that the essay or story is truly created. I write across myriad genres and formats, from the personal essay to the script, and I don’t start off by thinking (for example), “Ok, now it’s time to write a radio show.” My process is what ultimately reveals the form a given work will take.

Whenever I write, I start with a fresh legal notepad and two or three number-two pencils, which I keep perfectly sharpened throughout. I don’t give myself any prompts or criteria besides a time limit—usually an hour a day. I’ve never had writer’s block or lacked material, and I attribute this to the lack of constraints. I will generate new material for a week before even typing anything up.

The time of day I write can be as early as 5am or as late as 10pm. I cannot write, or do much of anything, between the hours of 2pm to 4pm—inevitably my sluggish time of day. I like to experiment by writing in different positions or environments. Sometimes I’ll write standing up, but you can also find me laying on my bed. I’m a people watcher, but I can’t work when things are too loud or crowded. But I won’t write or look at screens by the time midnight rolls around because I’m trying to decompress.

Throughout any given day I’ll be recording notes or sentences on my iPhone using the Voice Memos and Bear apps. I also keep a sketchbook and a journal with me, and write in those daily. Once a week I transcribe the audio notes and recopy what I’ve jotted down in my notebooks, sketchpads, or random sheets of paper into my free-writing legal pads.

About twice a month I will type up everything I’ve written. This pattern isn’t arbitrary; it’s when I’ve accumulated enough raw material and realize that to write any more I’d become overwhelmed with all the material. When I type up my work, it’s not in a standard way. I’ll set my Word document to landscape, create columns, and change the font. In this way, material I am already slightly familiar with becomes new again. This is a technique I learned from my thesis advisor at Columbia College’s MFA program, Dr. Jenny Boully.

As I type everything up, I do slight edits—clear up random thoughts into sentences and discard anything truly bad–half-formed thoughts or obvious clichés come to mind. Finally, I’ll place this document beside a blank document with a standard layout and font, and retype it.

Utilizing this process, I can come up with drafts for two or three pieces concurrently. I also become aware of thematic concerns or recurring references to people or places—all the things that have preoccupied my mind in the preceding weeks. If all these concerns can be stitched together into one longer draft, fine. If not, they can each be shorter discrete drafts.

Only after this am I able to truly start editing and crafting the material into a draft. Editing, for me, is a drastic process. It is about radical, even violent, revision. I end up killing some seventy-percent of my darlings by determining what material is doing no work. But this is fine because as one of my mentors, Aleksandar Hemon, is fond of saying, “That stuff isn’t writing; it’s typing.”

Only after all this do I have a working draft, and that brings me to a point where most other people seem to start from! It’s what works for me, though, and spending so much time on process truly gives me the foundation I need. Any writer one speaks with is bound to have a different methodology, but it’s important to try many different one out to find the right fit. Figuring out what has become my process took a good two years of math – adding and subtracting elements I experimented with along the way. I wish you the best in discovering your process!


Andrew Gregory Krzak is a Nonfiction MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago. He is the producer of The Don’t Call Me Sweetheart! Show on WLPN, 105.5fm, Chicago. In addition to writing, he is fond of directing plays, illustrating magazine covers and children’s books, and playing accordion.

Book Reviews

Lauren Rheaume reviews Mary Laura Philpott

May 6, 2019

I Miss You When I Blink
Mary Laura Philpott
288 pages
Atria Books, $26.00

Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink is not a self-help book, but there are so many gems about how to live one’s life in this memoir-in-essays collection that I’d like to bestow this honorary genre upon it as well. It’s funny, poignant, thought-provoking, and also a page-turner to boot. It’s easy to follow Philpott on her journey, dipping into her childhood and college years, to her twenties and thirties, and to her current world as a freelance writer, cartoonist, wife, mother, and self-admitted Type-A person.

In the book’s titular essay, Philpott reveals the meaning behind the phrase. Her six-year-old son was singing to himself, coming up with rhyming sounds for works that ended in -ink, and “I miss you when I blink” halted Philpott’s struggle to come up with tantalizing copy to describe luggage. She adopts this “go-to chorus” because it “helps her slow down and absorb each instant instead of rushing,” especially during those tiny adult identity crises. All throughout our lives we’re going through small life transitions: a new job, a new role as a parent of a teenager instead of a middle-schooler, a new phase in which you’ve outgrown friendships or relationships. Because “so many ways of being are being pitched to us—particularly to women—as either-or choices,” career or family, “a domestic goddess that cans her own strawberry jam, or a trainwreck that flaunts the wine in her coffee mug . . . pious or profane,” it’s helpful to pause and remember who she is, who she’s been.

Concepts of selfhood, identity, and the “blink” echo throughout the book as we learn about the cast of characters in Philpott’s life. In her essay “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Philpott recounts her time learning guitar and her love of “trying on a different persona from time to time.” Specifically, she describes Halloween costumes she’s had over the years, and the “thrill to look at the mirror, blink your eyes and see the glittery eyelids of a different person looking back. It makes you think Who are you?—which is a useful question to ask yourself from time to time.” I love that Philpott has these pauses in her life—the moments where she stretches herself, interrogates herself, thinks. No matter how many times I read about how fast life moves by, especially American life, with our constant rushing and working, I still need reminders like this to look at myself and my life and make sure I’m living it the way I want to. 

Philpott also describes her encounters with depression across several essays, notably in one entitled “Ungrateful Bitch.” She explores the times in her life when she missed feeling known and times when she wanted to be “unwitnessed,” especially when she was despairing but could point to no real cause. I found it profoundly moving when she plainly writes, “Unfortunately, having a fine life doesn’t exempt anyone from existential angst.” How helpful it was to read this line, how it reminded me of my own feelings of guilt when feeling down; I felt a softening toward myself. In this chapter, she reckons with the fact that her depression doesn’t have any inciting incident she can point to, no concrete trauma, but that it’s there nonetheless, and possibly even more frustrating because of it. Quotes like “One person’s more-sad doesn’t cancel out another person’s less-sad” make clear something I’ve tried myself to put into words for years. 

It’s her voice that I find most powerful in this book, and her ability to laugh at herself, her foibles, her life. Her writing is funny. Entire essays made me guffaw on every other page. In the final essay, when she’s describing the lessons she’s learned in her role as an interviewer on television, she says that during filming, “you must hold the electrified posture of a startled ballerina if you want to look like you’re sitting up straight.” In “This is Not My Cat,” Philpott meditates on a recipe for “Hot Buttered Crackers.” She asks, “Why does this require a recipe? Is it gross?”

She also meditates on past conversations with other adult women, her hunger for meaningful discussion palpable but futile. Philpott writes, “I couldn’t pretend to give a shit about chicken salad any more than I could find the right moment to jump in and add to the conversation or change the subject.” I’ve been there, and I love that Philpott found a way to render this with humor and earnestness in equal measure. 

Her humanity reminds me of my own, but by reading this book, I realized I might not be as Type A as I’ve originally thought. In “The Perfect Murder Weapon,” Philpott writes, “If success came in a snortable form, I’d sniff it up each nostril and rub the residue on my gums.” She jokes that despite having no murderous intentions, she still finds herself, after having watched some killer drama on TV, re-plotting a flawless murder, deeply committed to finding a way to get it perfect. She writes, “My name is Mary Laura, and I’m addicted to getting things right.” There’s a small chance that Philpott is exaggerating here, but it made me appreciate my ability to relax, take life as it comes, and even my capacity to let myself make mistakes. 

It’s not an exaggeration to say this book can teach you how to live. In her essay “The Joy of Quitting,” she writes, “Deciding what you won’t have in your life is as important as deciding what you will have.” It’s a profound interrogation of the self and the mutability of it, how quickly we can change, even without realizing it. Reading it made me feel more at home with myself, and reminded me to ask questions I don’t often think about in my daily life: Who are you?

Lauren Rheaume is an essayist and the HR & Operations manager at GrubStreet. She’s been published at Boston Accent and GrubWrites. You can find her on Twitter and IG at @laurenxelissa and online at https://lauren-rheaume.com/.