Write Now with Dianne Turgeon Richardson

Who are you?

Dianne Turgeon Richardson. I am a full-time technical/proposal writer for a government services contractor in the Orlando, FL area, and I occasionally take on freelance writing and editing work. In my spare time, I write creatively: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction/personal essay.

What do you write?

I started writing when I was seven with my own version of a Babysitters’ Club novel. Today, we’d call it fan fiction, but at the time, I really just thought, “This doesn’t look so hard. I bet I can do it.” It was all downhill from there. An English degree. Rhetoric coursework. A masters of fine art in creative writing. Now performances at spoken word events and poetry slams. I’m a hopeless case.

Professionally, I write proposals for government contract work. Agencies and offices associated with the Executive Branch of the federal government release requests for proposals (RFPs), and I work with my company’s Business Development department to craft an acquisition strategy. What will we write about? What key skills and capabilities will we highlight? How will we organize the information so that our response is not only compliant to the RFP’s directions, but also tells the story we want to share about our company? We work with groups like the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Energy, so my work as a writer is part technical/scientific information and part marketing/PR. I’m also the go-to person in my office for what we call “sanity checks,” which is essentially proofreading for grammar, clarity, etc. It’s satisfying work in that I bring a specialized skill set to a space where those skills are needed and appreciated and am an integral member of a team with many moving parts. While the dream, of course, would be to stay home and write novels all day, it’s really nice to be writing anything for money and benefits, especially since I have kids that expect to eat every day. More than once.

Personally, my creative writing is largely tied to key themes that are important and compelling to me. My fiction is often set in the Deep South, which is where I grew up and which is also a bizarre, terrible, amazing, mystical, wonderful place. I’ve been heavily influenced by the Southern Gothic writers, particularly Faulkner and O’Connor. Like Faulkner, I am very interested in exploring and unpacking the extremely dark and extremely painful history of the South, which in many ways is simply the extremely dark and extremely painful history of America, and how that history has resulted in many of our current problems and collective traumas. Like O’Connor, I’m very interested in asking difficult faith-based questions. And if I’m writing about the South, that pretty much drops me right in the middle of themes like class, race, The War (you know the one), societal rules, various forms of Christianity, and landscape/place.

Currently, though, I am working on a poetry collection because that is where the Muse has been calling me, and the poetry collection is overtly political because…well, obviously. Still, even my poems are grappling with matters of faith, particularly the current incarnation of American Nationalistic Christianity, race, class, and confronting the unsavory aspects of American history, which certainly color our present.

However, poetry doesn’t pay the bills; hence, proposal writing and office life.

Where do you write?

At my day job, I am thrilled to report that I have my own actual office with real walls and a door — as opposed to a cubicle — which is certainly a statement about current worker drone life, isn’t it? I spend an inordinate amount of time in Microsoft Word, and you can usually find me typing away or conducting research with my headphones on. I can’t listen to music with English lyrics when I’m writing because my brain just starts singing along, making it nigh impossible to write my own words. So I listen to a lot of instrumental music. Lately I’ve been on a kick with Pandora’s Contemporary Bollywood station because the songs are really upbeat (need that energy to get through the slow afternoons) and the lyrics are in Hindi, which I do not speak.

When working on my creative projects, I again use Word if I’m not writing by hand. I really like writing out first drafts of poems by hand. Then I type them up in a Word doc so I can more easily play with line breaks. Then I print out the draft and do edits by hand again. I also prefer to revise and edit my prose by hand. It forces me to slow down and closely consider the changes I’m making. But I do it all in pencil so I can easily make changes to my changes. I spend a great deal of time revising and editing and am a full-blown acolyte of Anne Lamott’s school of shitty first drafts. (I’m always very suspicious of people who say they don’t revise much.) Since I have a large laundry room in my house, I’m able to dedicate half of it to a home office, or “mommy’s space” as my kids call it. I’m not sure it’s quite the “room of one’s own” that Woolf spoke of, but it’s better than trying to write at the kitchen table amid the chaos of two toddlers.

When do you write?

At work, I have deadlines, and thank God for them because without deadlines, I get nothing done. Which is my biggest issue with completing my creative work. Full disclosure: I’m terrible at finding a creative writing routine and sticking to it. (And don’t even ask me about finding time to submit my work for publication.) I keep telling myself it’s because being a mom to two toddlers and working full-time are so time- and energy-consuming, and they are, but if I’m being completely honest with myself, I probably also lack a good bit of self-discipline. Thankfully, writing is not just a hobby or a thing I enjoy. It’s a compulsion. I literally can’t not write. If I go several days without accomplishing creative work, it nags me. I don’t sleep as well. I’m irritable and lash out at my loved ones. I get headaches. That’s when I go in my laundry room and finish that damn poem that’s been running through my mind. I’m like an addict, but the daily minutiae of life get in the way of my habit until finally the withdrawal gets to be too much and I go chase that dragon. It’s likely not the most productive way to create, but somehow or another, work gets done. Work gets performed at open mics. Work even gets published from time to time.

I am a big fan of the idea of an accountabili-buddy, a fellow creative person with whom you check in daily or weekly as a way to force each other to do the thing. They also make great beta readers when you need another set of eyes to tell you whether or not you’re moving in the right direction. My accountabili-buddy and I are both trying to complete chapbook collections — she in flash fiction, me in poetry. She plans to self-publish while I plan to submit my manuscript to small presses. But we both need a kick in the pants to stay at it when adulthood is often draining the life from us. There are many days when I am exhausted, when I have changed just one too many poopy diapers or calmed one too many tantrums, when I just want to go to bed or read a book. But then I think, “Oh no! What am I going to tell Whitney?!” The desire to avoid shaming oneself in front of one’s friends is a profound motivator, at least for me.

Why do you write?

Like I said, it’s a compulsion. An addiction. I’ve had it since I was a kid. I don’t know where it came from, although I’m convinced that it was woven into my being by my Creator. So in that way, I guess you could say it’s my vocation. I tried running from it for a goodly portion of my life. “Get a degree in English? And do what? Who makes any money by writing? I’m going into STEM!” And I did. And I love the STEM fields, but I could never seem to make a happy career for myself there. Go figure. Once I just accepted the fact that I was a writer, professionally or not, things began to fall into place. I’m sure the Universe is glad I finally caught up with it. I can’t quite put a finger on what fuels, motivates, or inspires me. I only know that when everything else in my life — professionally, personally — has burned to the ground, there was always writing. I was always a writer.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

I have never experienced writer’s block. I could live a hundred lifetimes and still never write all the ideas I have in my head. (My brain is an exhausting place to be! So many fake people talking to me!) Sure, there have been times in the middle of a piece where I’m stuck or know where I want to get to but don’t know how to get there. I usually take a break, go do something else, return with fresh eyes. Somehow, a path always presents itself. But that writer’s block thing of simply not knowing what to write about or having nothing to write about? I don’t know what that is.

Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?

I read a lot. A LOT. I read poetry, mostly contemporary, fiction of all kinds (I’m not picky), and academically-oriented history books. I like being outside, going hiking, or being in the vicinity of water. And I draw, color, and craft.

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