What inspired you to write your essay, “Someone Else’s Secret?”
Jess Wierzbinski: This is an essay that’s been bubbling in the back of my mind for a long time now—thirty-some years I guess. I mean, not perpetually, of course. But off and on again across the years. It’s a topic I always knew I wanted to encounter in writing someday, when I was ready. Then one morning recently I woke up with the first half of it gushing out of my brain. I had to rush to a pen and paper and just record what was there. I guess that means I was finally ready to tackle it.
In a way, I don’t think my conscious mind could have come up with a way to tell this story. It had to simmer for a long time in my subconscious, or unconscious, back and forth between the two across the years no doubt. Until finally it was ready to burst out.
WOW: How did your essay develop, both in your initial thinking about it and in the revision process?
Jess Wierzbinski: For this one, the revision process was fairly minimal, probably because the thing had simmered so long. That morning when I woke up with it in my brain, I wrote it in a whirlwind, and I didn’t know if it was any good or not. But I just let it stand for a few weeks, kind of let myself forget about it. When I went back to it weeks later, I saw several changes that needed to be made, a poor word choice here, an inaccurate mood portrayal there, that sort of thing. Typically there’s a lot more revision than there was with this piece. But I find that the longer I let a subject simmer before trying to explore it in prose, the fewer revisions I need to make to it. Slow-cooking really is the best way, for me.
WOW: What is your writing process like? Please describe a typical day.
Jess Wierzbinski: I wish I could describe a typical day. I’ll be a more prolific writer once I establish a routine, but I’m just starting out with letting myself write. For now, writing is a luxury I try hard to afford myself. I enjoy it immensely. I enjoy being able to reflect deeply on different episodes of my life, different aspects of the culture I grew up in, what they’ve taught me, how I’ve grown from them. But I also run a small business and am raising four sons, so for now those things have to take precedence. My sons are flying the coup in rapid succession now though, and my business is finally able to sustain me, so I am just starting to prioritize writing. On an ideal day, I spend my first few hours of the day—while my brain is fresh—either mulling over some topic I want to write about, or actually writing about it. That’s an ideal day. On a typical day though, life happens, and I have to make space to respond to whatever comes up, on the business front or the home front. I really prioritize spending time with my kids when they’re available. Right now that is my top priority. I sense a shift coming, and I am saddened and energized by that prospect in equal measures.
WOW: One of your upcoming projects is a collection of personal essays. Do you have a theme for the collection? How are you going about this endeavor?
Jess Wierzbinski: I am working toward a couple different essay collections. The one this story comes from will focus on growing up in an uber-Catholic, Midwestern family, just barely north of the poverty line. I’m tentatively titling it “Broke as Folk and Woke as Fuck.” But who knows where the process will lead me. The title and the theme may change a hundred times before it’s ready for publication, and that’s okay. I’m trying to stay open to the process and just see where it leads me.
How do I go about writing this collection, you ask? I don’t really have a comprehensive answer for that at this point. Like I said, I’m just starting out with the actual writing process. I’ve been reflecting on my childhood all my life though, so it’s all there, just beneath my conscious thinking. It’s been stewing for years. My job now is just to let it speak. I’m excited to see what form it will take, but for now, I feel like I’m just a witness, just trying to record the insights as they pop out of the simmering stew. It’s such a messy process.
WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jessica. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice with our readers?
Jess Wierzbinski: Sure, I can think of a couple. For one, if you’re an aspiring writer, prioritize your writing. Make space for it. Get up early and dive right in. Do not check your phone or social media or email first! Really prioritize your writing. If writing is what you want to do, then find a way to put it first. Secondly, I would say that one should probably prioritize living before they prioritize writing. Good writing grows fat out of full living, so get out there and live first!