Stephanie Affinito — lover of books, writing, teaching, journals, podcasts, and long walks on the beach — asked me five questions after our podcast interview. (For that, just bounce on this link, and the miracle of the interwebs will take you there.)
Where do you do your best writing?What are your favorite writing tools? (pens, notebook, software, etc.)Do you have any special writing routines or rituals?What inspires your writing?What advice do you give to others who hope to one day write something of their own?
Here’s how I answered:
I suppose it’s my disposition to remove any of the preciousness or magic out of the writing process. For me, it’s been called “going to work” since I went freelance in 1990. Let me back up. The important thing, regardless of your physical surroundings, is to get yourself in the proper headspace to write. The right frame of mind (and the time required to produce anything of length). Now, granted, everyone is different and there may well be various rituals or strategies to help you get there, in place, so to write. It might be an office, a chair, a particular pen, a bottle of gin. We can scribble on napkins or jab sentences into the “Notes” feature of our phones. But to write at length requires, simply, a place where you can be free from distractions. Focus is everything. Concentration is king. And at every turn the world conspires against those things. To write well, I think you need to turn the world off and allow yourself the time and space to go deep inside your head. What inspires my writing? Oh, gosh. Everything and anything. But I do seem to need to be inspired — moved to write — — in order to get anything worthwhile done. I’ve never been very good at cranking out 1,000 words on any given afternoon. Whereas for others, that’s exactly the process. They write by writing. And I’ve gone through all the self-loathing that comes with falling short at the job. What I’ve learned — and this translates into my advice for any writer — is to read widely with care & attention and to write often. The obvious stuff. But after a while, you will begin to learn about yourself, the things that work for you. We are all different. For example, I’ve come to accept that I seem to need a lot of time percolating. Ruminating. Dithering might be another word for it. Working things out in my head over time. And it’s as if a certain kind of creative pressure slowly builds and builds until, one day, it’s time. I’m ready to write. As a writer, you might be completely different. You might be analytical, methodical. You might like to write out extended character profiles, elaborate backstories, fill pages and pages in notebooks. But ultimately, the task comes down to just you and a blank page. Nothing gets written until you sit down in front of that blank page. You need to get yourself there on a regular basis, one way or other. What else? Oh, please, forgive yourself. Be patient with yourself. Try your best. Work hard, but also take time off. Exercise. Enjoy walks. Read books. Meet with friends. Fill yourself up. And always return to that blank page. Just you & the silence of your thoughts, your feelings, and the time & space to think & feel them. Good luck.
Addendum: I did not write this in my original answer to Stephanie, but all my references to the “blank page” reminded me of a tip that I actually practice. At the end of the day, around the time you are ready to push away from the desk, leave a little something unwritten. That is, don’t finish the chapter. Don’t end the scene. Leave it off in the middle if possible, maybe with a few clear notes. Then the next day, you can pick right up where you left off — i.e., it’s not a blank page! — rather than having to start all over again at the bottom of the hill.
Etcetera, etcetera . . .