On April 28th, 2011, Squid, writer, wrote:
1- Where do you write? Virginia Woolf famously said it’s important to have a room of one’s own… How do you arrange your supplies, do you write indoors or outdoors? I’d like to know.
2- What supplies do you use? Do you write first drafts longhand, or do you type them? What journals and pens do you use?
And on January 7, 2012, April wrote, I’m curious for more peeks into your life. Perhaps you could divulge a little more in another post? For example, I read the linked post today about writers’ various quirks. What are some of yours? How do your husband, family, and friends react to your quirks, or to your writerly profession in general (both in the past and presently)?
I write anywhere. Well, not in the shower, but in airports, on planes, in doctors’ waiting rooms (routine exams – I’m not sick). Wherever I shlep my computer I write if I have at least fifteen minutes. At home, I write in my office or on my laptop, which lives in the kitchen when it isn’t traveling with me. In the kitchen, it’s on a counter. I could put it on the table, but I once read that it’s not healthy for people to sit for long periods, so when I’m downstairs, I write standing up. The laptop is called Reggie, named after the dog character in The Wish, years before we got our puppy Reggie.
In my office I sit, except when I get up to pace or to stare out the window. The view is lovely no matter the season: stone walls, ancient tall hemlock, antique outhouse (we do have indoor plumbing).
Right now I’m at a poetry retreat waiting for the day’s session to start. I’m in an austere place, a former orphanage on the grounds of a current convent. My room was once an orphan’s bedroom, and it’s small! There’s no desk, only a bed, wooden chair (no cushion), metal gym locker, narrow bed, high dresser, no private bathroom, alas. I’m standing on tiptoes to type on my laptop atop the dresser.
I wonder what my father, who was an orphan and grew up in an orphanage, would think of me being here. Laugh? Roll over in his grave?
The reason I work anywhere is because I trained myself to be able to many years ago after reading Becoming A Writer (middle school and up, I’d guess; the language is old-fashioned but the ideas are modern) by Dorothea Brande. I travel a fair amount, and I don’t want my work to grind to a halt whenever I leave home. People who can write only when the moon is full and the stars are in a certain alignment don’t finish many books. In an airport, under a giant TV blasting endless headlines, weather, and commercials, I can work. I’m irritated. I wish the thing would shut up, but I work.
I don’t write outdoors much. In winter it’s too cold, obviously. In warm weather there are bugs and beauty. Beauty distracts me!
My desk in my office is a disaster area. I swear when I finish the first draft of used-to-be-called Beloved Elodie, I’m going to clean it up. If I need a pen, I have to feel through the layers to find it. On the desk is a memento of my father, a gift from one of his friends. It looks like a hinged wooden box. On top there’s writing that says, “For the man who has nothing, something to put it in.” The joke is that when you open the box, it turns out to be just a block of wood. There’s no cavity. My father loved the joke.
This is a poem I wrote about my office, imagining it as part of a museum show of offices of kids’ book writers:
stands in for me, part of an exhibition
children wander through. Jason heads
for the wooden skull from Mexico.
Brianna goes, Ew! and Yuck, don’t touch that.
Ella likes the hand-made Christmas-tree ornaments
around my windows: the quilted heart in muted pinks,
edged by brass beads; the striped parrot;
the black paisley angel. Sara picks up the small,
lead Tinker Bell on my desk. Everyone marvels
at my origami swan made from a Tokyo candy wrapper.
Ms. Kramer points out my English usage books.
Outside, somebody calls, Wow!
J.K. Rowling’s office!
They’re gone. No one paid attention
to my quiescent computer, with a hundred e-mails
locked inside. The children didn’t notice
the hand-hewn, 1790 oak beam or the 1920s
pewter lamp. They glanced past the photograph
of the rosebud with its red petals folding
in on themselves, its shadowy hole, the two
droplets of dew.
When I’m home I don’t listen to music while I work; I prefer silence.
If the writing isn’t going well, I get sleepy, and I have to take frequent breaks, to stretch, answer an email, anything that will wake me up. I like to write while I eat breakfast and lunch and my nightly snack because I can’t sleep and chew at the same time.
I almost always write directly on the computer, but when I use a pen, it’s a cheap gel pen on a steno pad. I don’t like ballpoints because you have to press too hard, and I don’t like Sharpies because the ink bleeds through to the other side of the paper.
I don’t have a big family, but my husband is delightfully proud of my books. When I’m stuck and suffering, David, who is supremely sympathetic, suffers too.
My sister and his sisters and my brothers-in-law like my work. His sister Amy directs a public library, and I went there to speak. Libraries run in David’s blood; Amy and four cousins are or were librarians (one is retired).
I’m trying to think of a quirky quirk for you. You all know from the blog that I don’t plan my books out ahead of time, that sometimes I wander around in a fog for a ridiculously long time. If I thought it would do any good, I would tie a shoe around my neck, touch Reggie’s nose, stand on my head (if I could) for an hour to make the writing flow. How about this? When I’m describing a facial expression, I’ll do an Google images search for the emotion I want to show, but I’ll also make faces at myself in the mirror.
When I wrote the Disney fairy books I had to keep scale in mind because the fairies are only five inches tall. I had to ask myself, What’s a five-inch creature in relation to a quart of milk, to a caterpillar, a potato, a cherry? To remind myself I kept a five-inch bottle of hair goop on my desk the whole time.
Here are a few prompts:
∙ One of the exercises we did at the poetry retreat was to write a list poem, which is basically a list. So write a list poem about your writing place. To make it work as a poem, the items should be detailed, can be fantastical. Surprises are nice, and it’s good to end with an item that goes against expectation or packs an emotional wallop.
∙ Sometime before next week’s post, write outside your comfort zone. Write in the living room while the family is watching television. Bring your pad to breakfast and write while you chomp down on your pancakes or your high-fiber cereal. See if you can zone out of the distractions, see if the distractions themselves take you somewhere unexpected.
∙ Again, before next week’s post, write in an unaccustomed mode. If you usually write longhand first, go directly to a computer, or vice versa. See if there’s a change in your writing. Does the new method open you up? (You can then return to your usual way, but sometimes it’s good to shake things up.)
∙ Write a chapter in your future memoir about yourself as a writer, whether or not writing will be your career. What got you started? Write about your real past, but also imagine the future. What has been a turning point or what will be? Describe your greatest past triumph and your greatest upcoming one.
∙ If you like, post your own writing quirks here.
Have fun, and save what you write!