Community of Writers: Marianna Bogucki
Marianna Bogucki works in Conference and Event Services at Princeton University. She is a prolific writer and traveler whose essay “November Light” (https://pwrites.princeton.edu/prize/november-light/) previously won the Princeton Writes Prize. Here, she speaks with Princeton Writes about her writing process and creative trajectory, including her experiences blogging at http://travelswithauggie.blogspot.com and at http://mariannasadventures.blogspot.com.
What draws you to writing?
I think writing’s just always been a way for me to express myself clearly. I feel like a lot of times in conversation, I’m a very gregarious person and a lot of times, I speak before thinking. Writing’s always been a way I could get my thoughts out and get my words out in a really clear and planned way that I feel expresses my voice. It’s also always been something I’ve enjoyed doing. I’ve liked seeing what I’ve been able to come up with. Sometimes I’ve surprised myself with what I’ve been able to come up with, so I’ve always been drawn to the fact that it’s a very different form of expression than how I express myself verbally.
Who is your audience?
That’s a great question that I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about. Perhaps if I did actually take a moment and think about it, it could really help me move forward in my writing. So thank you for asking that! [laughs] I think in a weird way, I’m writing for myself, but myself as a reader. I think I’m often writing a lot about what I would like to see, what I would like to read. So I think whenever I’m writing I’m always thinking about if I were in a bookstore, what would I like to pick up? If I were reading something in a magazine, what would I like to read? I hope that doesn’t sound selfish or narcissistic! [laughs] It’s really the way I approach things, taking myself out of my body and saying, “All right, what would you like to read? What would you like to hear? Let’s put that on paper!” It sounds, in a way, as if I really only think about myself, but at the same time, I’m thinking about myself as a separate person. That’s the only way I’ve ever thought about writing… I think it’s a way of me avoiding the idea of thinking everything I write is not worthy or not worth it, when, in fact, if I view it this way then it should be worth it to write it, because I want to see it. It probably is a way of me navigating around that roadblock of self-sabotage by thinking, “Okay, if you don’t think it’s worth it, then write what you think is worth it.”
What is your writing process?
I like to think I’m someone who can write in the moment, who can write what I’m feeling and write what I’m thinking, but I definitely am most productive when I devote large chucks of time to writing. And when can you get large chunks of time? I really try, at least once a year, to devote an extended weekend to just thinking about writing that weekend. What I produce during that, I don’t know! [laughs] But I’ve realized that I can write in the moment; I love to think that I’m someone who can just write off the top of my head. But I really produce my most meaningful work—what I think is good work—when I devote large chunks of time to it. And with that comes the planning process of what you’re going to write, what you’re going to do. So the best way to describe it is that I like to consider myself as someone who writes off the top of my head and writes free-flowing thoughts, but I know deep down that I need to plan it out, I need to think about it, I need to really, really structure it before I can write something that I’m happy with. Do I always do that? Not at all. Not at all! [laughs] The most writing I do is typically, “Oh, hey, I’ve got an hour here, let me write stuff down [or] I saw this prompt, let me write using it!” So the majority of my work is definitely stuff off the top of my head in the moment, but if I could pick, if I could say, “This is how I do my best work,” [that would be from] a very methodical, very thought-out [process].
What is it about the world you want to capture or change through writing?
I really want to capture the moment in time I’ve thought about. I love to read historical fiction, I love history and I love to research, and I’ve thought that maybe I should try writing historical things, but really, I love work that captures the [specific] moment in time, be it just a small moment or a bigger moment. And so with that, I think I would want to make sure that I’m accurately representing that moment, and be aware that while I’m writing for myself, I’m not just writing about myself. Something that I want to be aware of is that I can’t tell anyone else’s story without their involvement, but I want to be able to include everyone around me. I guess I want to make sure that [even] knowing that I’m writing for myself, I want to make sure that I don’t just write about my own viewpoint. That’s the best way to put it. Being conscious of the fact that I am my own audience, but that I want to make sure that it’s not just my own eyes [being] the only eyes telling the story, that there are multiple viewpoints, that I’m telling the story of a lot of people without actually telling their stories. Does that make sense? [laughs] That I’m including people without telling their stories?… I want to make sure that my writing represents the diverse world I’m living in, but I don’t want to claim that I can be [others’] voice, that I can tell [their] stories, so I think that’s a constant struggle in my writing. How do I represent that diverse world without co-opting other people’s stories? If you’re writing for just yourself, ask yourself: “Are you writing from just your viewpoint? Are you taking a step back and being careful with assumptions that you make in your writing?” I think that’s something: being conscious of the assumptions you’re making as you’re writing and the voices you’re using. That’s something I take seriously when I’m writing…. I have a novel I’ve been trying to work on for a couple years now, here and there, and I want the characters in it to represent the people around me, but I have to be very careful not to model certain [fictional] people after certain [real] people, because it’s not my place to tell their stories. You have to be very careful about making sure that you’re representing diverse voices without actually speaking for them.
Who are your favorite writers?
Oh, man! Let’s see. Let me go to my bookshelf! I tend to really shift between phases of fiction and non-fiction, and I would say author-wise, the ones that come to my head immediately are more non-fiction. I’m thinking of Sarah Vowell, who writes a lot of great observational books about travel and history. If I had to say what I aspire to, it would be to write books like that. I’ve tried and I haven’t yet found my voice in that. That would definitely be my ideal style of writing… also, this summer, I devoured Brit Bennett’s books The Mothers and The Vanishing Half, and I read those books and I thought that I would like for people to read my work and get the same feelings that I’m getting from these books. Then I found out she’s younger than me and felt very, very behind the times! [laughs]… otherwise, I like authors that have a way of adding in their own personal reflections without that being the theme of the books Like Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? You can definitely hear her in it without the book being about her. So those would be three authors that if I were to say that I read those books and was actually thinking about the writer as I read them, not just the book, those would be three that I’d probably point to.
How did you get into blogging?
I was such a pompous early 20s person [laughs]. I definitely, as a child, would write things the way children did, but my beginnings in writing as a hobby were when I was studying abroad in college. Everyone would form a blog so they could keep in touch with their friends and family back home — it seemed everyone those days had a blog!—and I was getting messages from people I hadn’t talked to in ages, telling me how much they loved my blog: “‘This is funny! This is great!’” One of my fellow study-abroad [peers], whom I had just met in Ireland, came up to me and said that his mom was reading my blog! [laughs] She had Googled “Ireland study-abroad” and found my blog, and I respond well to praise [laughs], so I kept writing in that blog.
Then when I came home, it started a series of blogs for me. I came home in what would have been my junior year. So my senior year, I started another blog, and people were reading it around campus and people would talk to me about it, and again, respond well to praise [laughs], so I kept writing things on my life and my observations about school and all that. I graduated [from college] in 2009, when there were no jobs anyway, it was just not happening, you just weren’t getting hired. I’d been working in the office that I work in now: I didn’t go to Princeton [for college], but I worked here during the summers as a student worker, so I worked one more summer at conference services. Then at the end of the summer, I didn’t have a job, so my friend and I drove around the country for 40 days and I was like, “All right! Another opportunity to have a blog here.” So I kept a blog of that, one of my favorite blogs to keep, because I was really trying to be funny in the first two blogs and amuse people, and this one was really just a record of what we were doing. I’m really glad I have that, that I’m able to look back at that. So then when I came back from that [trip], I was still unemployed. I had nothing to do and I had spent all my money driving around the country. So I was living at home and keeping a blog—a new blog, blog number four at this point!—and then I was documenting my life trying to be a millennial in the recession, trying to find my first job after spending a lot of money getting educated…
I did have a former classmate who was an intern at the Huffington Post that year, and she somehow managed to hook me up with getting some of those blogs sent to the Huffington Post. I don’t know how; I guess that was her job, to search blogs around the internet and find posts that could be shared on their website. But yeah, I’d love to say that I strived and I submitted and I worked the system, but it’s 100% the old boys’ network—except we went to a women’s college, so it’s the old gals’ network, I guess [laughs], of getting your work posted and keeping those connections. But it is an interesting path: I’ve always tried to keep writing about my life because the route I did end up taking in my career is not exactly what I thought I’d be doing. It is definitely more administrative, [and] I like my job and I like my coworkers, but writing has a little bit more of a personal touch to it. My journey to Princeton is that I worked here during summers in college and then I was lucky enough that my office hired me after that, and I’ve been here ever since. So it’s not as exciting of a journey as perhaps it may look like; it was perhaps a very straight and short journey!
I will say that in the whole work-from-home period, I’ve incorporated a lot more writing into my job than I have in the past. That’s been sort of an effort of mine, because I work in events. Clearly, events are not happening [in-person], but we still have this huge need to connect the events community around campus [and] to stay connected with information and communication. So I’ve really tried to recognize my love of writing and say, “Okay, this is a great role that I can step into here and use this writing and bring it into my career,” whereas in the past, I’ve kept them very separate: I had my career and then writing was very much an after-5 pm activity that I did. So it’s fun, seeing them start to evolve together this year. That’s an opportunity I’ve been really thankful for.
Interview: Elizabeth Durham
Photo: Courtesy of Marianna Bogucki