The Writer at Work
I love watching television shows or movies that portray writers at work. It is amazing to me that in this day of advanced electronic technology, the slightly eccentric, vaguely attractive, bespectacled author is always shown sitting at a typewriter. Well, not always, but more likely than not there is a typewriter in the background.
Sure, I can remember banging away at an old IBM Selectric, neatly stacking my finished pages in a box on my desk. And even before that, I can remember writing in long hand on an endless supply of yellow legal pads. I was cleaning out a closet the other day and found an old suitcase stuffed with a novel written on crinkly, ink-stained pages in a faded hand.
And it amazes me that I ever wrote this way, because the truth is, it was a time consuming and inefficient way to work. There are writers that insist long hand is the only way to write; that the act of stringing together long looping words, and long looping sentences is the art of writing at its most organic. They may be right. But I would guess that these are writers who’ve never had to meet a tight deadline, who can afford to keep an army of typists busy with their drafts and constant rewrites.
Me, I enjoy the wizardry of my trusty Sony laptop. I take pleasure in composing a sentence and then watching it materialize on the screen, much as it will appear on the printed page. It helps me to see clearly whether the rhythm of the sentence works, whether the word order should be changed, whether a word should be modified or deleted. And during the long, dreary rewrites, when I realize that a paragraph I’ve put at the end of a chapter needs to be moved to the beginning, or a particularly boring scene needs to be trimmed, or a bit of dialogue “freshened up”, how wonderful to be able to make my changes with a few deft clicks of a mouse. Compare that to the tedious hours it used to take to redline a draft and then retype the entire chapter (only, in some cases, to find that I had it right the first time.)
Having established that I’m a fan of technology, what about the rest of my daily writing routine?
I rise promptly at eight o’clock (give or take an hour). I make a pot of coffee and contemplate taking the dog for a walk in the woods. Usually I decide to drink the coffee because it smells so great and, hey, I can always take the dog for a walk later. After two cups, I’m beginning to feel almost energetic so I go to my computer and read my emails. This can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to two hours depending on the news of the day and whether I choose to follow links trying to find out, once and for all, whether Brad is cheating on Angelina, and whether he intends to return to Jen.
Now I’m ready to get down to business. But first, even though I’ve told myself repeatedly not to do this, I go online and check the reviews on my latest novel. Now I’m either deliriously happy or hopelessly depressed. If I’m happy, I’m ready to get down to work right away. If not, I spend anywhere from ten minutes to two hours trying to purge myself of anxiety and self-doubt. I repeat my mantra, “I am a good writer. I am a good writer.” I imagine myself accepting the Pulitzer. I visualize myself on the red carpet in Hollywood. Now I’m ready to work.
A layperson would call this “wasting time.” I call it “getting ready to write.” It can take anywhere from ten minutes to six hours but here’s the thing; regardless of how long it takes, regardless of the medium I use, eventually I sit down and write. I don’t give up. I don’t walk away and call it a day and this, I think, is what makes me a writer.
In an essay he once wrote on the craft of writing, Sinclair Lewis said that most writers don’t understand that the process begins by actually sitting down.
See, I get that.
Thanks, Cathy, for joining us today at Savvy Verse & Wit. Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of her novel, Beach Trip.
From her Website:
Cathy Holton entertained her classmates with tales of a scaled creature that lived in her carport shed and a magical phone that hung in her family’s bathroom that could be used to summon an English butler (this was in North Carolina in the 1960's and her family lived in married student housing).
She is the author of Beach Trip, Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes, and Secret Lives of the Kudzu Debutantes, all published through Ballantine/Random House Books. She lives in the mountains of Tennessee with her husband and three children, in a house that has both electricity and running water but, alas, no magical phone to summon an English butler.
Check out Beach Trip today.
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