Sep 19, 2008

Writing and Writing Spaces, Part 1

Day 5 of Writing in Metaphor and Imagery for Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) has me thinking about the writing process, and how different writers respond to their muses or at least begin to write their book reviews. Whether you are a book reviewing blogger, a poet, a novelist, a short-story writer, or any other type of writer, the writing process is often a struggle within yourself, a struggle to find time enough to write, and a journey unto itself. Anna of Diary of an Eccentric and I have known each other for over a decade, and it’s hard to believe we have known each other that long. We both hit it off as freshman college roommates when we both learned that we were writers and taking a correspondence course through the mail on writing children’s books. We’ve been close friends—our husbands even joke that we act more like sisters—co-workers, classmates, and partners in a variety of literary projects.

She and I started talking about our writing processes, and I figured what a great way to start up a dialogue among our book blogging friends as part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week. She and I have had very different processes, and I remember the days when my need for loud music (either musicals like the Phantom of the Opera or heavy metal) while I wrote drove her crazy.

Hey Anna, aka Diary of an Eccentric, I've been wondering how you prepare mentally for writing? Does ambient noise bother or inspire you? And does your mood influence what you write?

ANNA: I don't do much mental preparation for writing blog posts and book reviews. I have a schedule in my head (because I lose all the darn sticky notes), so I already have an idea what to write. But when it comes to my novel and short stories, etc., I try to block out the real-life things that affect my mood (screaming kid, bad day at work, bills) and try to channel my characters. There are times when I don't have to do much preparation at all, and my pen takes me on some wonderful adventures that I had no idea were inside my head. I can't write with lots of background noise. I have to wait until my daughter is in bed or not in the mood to bother me, and I can't watch television at the same time. (It's so hard to go a day without watching Hogan's Heroes!) But I have a play list on my iPod where I stick songs that fit the mood of my novel, listening to them helps the words flow. Of course my mood affects my writing! I wrote some of my best poems when I was depressed. Then I had to find my husband and become a mom, which put me in a good mood most of the time, and the poetry muse is either hiding in disgust or gone for good. I don't mind so much about the loss of my poetry; I'm glad I have a happy home life!

SERENA: You haven't given up on writing sticky notes because I've seen all of those notes all over your desk and books. I remember in college you used to hate studying in the same room with me because I had to have the radio on loudly. I assume that would still drive you crazy.

So would you say that you are like Stephenie Meyer in the sense that you have a play list for particular projects or just a particular play list for creative writing in general?

I think the poetry muse is just pissed you never had any of her children published! Just Kidding.

ANNA: Yeah, I’ll admit I still use the sticky notes, but once I write them, I don’t really look at them again. (What’s the point of writing them, you might ask. I ask myself that, too.)

I think you’re forgetting that it was my stereo, so it was on my side of the room. Actually right next to my desk, so when you’d grab the remote and turn the music up, I was deaf for three days afterward!

As for the play list, I set it up for my novel. Since I’ve been working on it for awhile (I’m going to tell you to shut up before you say anything because I know what you’re going to say!), it’s the only play list I’ve used. If I ever finish this one and start another, I’ll let you know whether I need a new play list.

I didn’t mean to upset the muse…I just never felt the urge to publish my poetry. The one poem I read at the Sigma Tau Delta convention in St. Louis (how many years ago was this??)…I just don’t know if I can go through the rejections with that one. The others are far, far from being ready for publication. You’ll have to publish them for me when I’m gone.

SERENA: Well, you know that I will publish them when you are gone, which I hope is not for a very, very, very (ok you get the picture) long time.

ANNA: As long as the muse doesn’t have a murderous streak, I should be okay!
Anyway…tell me about your mental preparation? Do you need loud music for creative writing, or was it just a way to keep yourself awake while reading that boring political science stuff in college? Do your moods affect your writing?

SERENA: I hope muses don't have murderous streaks because I could be in trouble; I haven't had anything published in a couple of years.

In college, I admit that the radio was my way of staying awake while reading that boring poli-sci stuff I already learned in honors history in high school...we all know what happened if I wasn't listening to music, I was asleep and never made it to my 8AM class. Thank goodness, they invented iPods.

Ok, preparing my mental space first requires the husband to either be asleep or out of the house! When I sit down to write, I must have some kind of ambient distraction. Whether that is music or the television will depend on my mood. I tend to listen to a particular group or genre of songs for the novel and poetry it can be any music. As for the short stories, I tend to work on those in silence or with the television going, which I think is akin to the fact that I find short story writing harder. As you can tell, I am long-winded!

Moods, hmmm, I have a wide variety of those. I used to write poetry only when depressed, but now I tend to be most poetic when I'm contemplative. (is that a word? English grammar and spelling don't fail me now!) Whether there is something on the television, in the real world, or just something I come across and I have time to the think about it (who has much of that these days) I will jot down a few lines. I also have been inspired by books I'm reading to write a couple lines or stanzas of a poem, which you can find out more about in Jill's interview of me for BBAW. Anyway, to make the story short, I think poetry is impacted by my mood. Where the novels and short stories come from I have no idea, although there was that one that came from a dream!

ANNA: I think it’s cool that stories come to you in dreams! (Now I’ll assume the nagging friend role…have you worked on that story lately, young lady??) I also remember you jolting awake, climbing down from the loft bed, and rummaging around on your desk to jot down poetry ideas in the middle of the night. That darn banker’s lamp was too bright for my sensitive eyes! Do you still do that?

SERENA: I actually find that poetry comes more now when I am awake on the bus, subway, walking down the street, or just observing something on television or reading a book, among other things. THAT short story is in hibernation until I have fresh eyes to look at it again. I'm following Stephen King's advice from On Writing.

And it was only that one story that came in a dream!

ANNA: Do you have any other writing book recommendations?
Personally I like The Novelist Boot Camp by Todd Stone.

SERENA: I love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont and the 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. I still have not read The Novelist Boot Camp; it may be the army green color of the book that makes me nervous.

So once you are prepared mentally to write, where do you physically plunk yourself down and get to work?

ANNA: Sometimes I write blog posts on the train, but never my novel or stories. I don’t like people looking over my shoulder. At home, I’ll sit on the couch with a notebook and my lapdesk, or if the husband insists on having the TV on, I’ll go upstairs and lay on the bed to write. I’ve always preferred a notebook/journal to writing at the computer. I sit at a computer 8 hours a day for work, and I don’t find those computer chairs comfortable enough to allow a free flow of creativity. I used to love writing outside. When we were at Quinnipiac College (now University, but it will always be QC to us!), there was the view of Sleeping Giant, which was beautiful when the leaves started changing colors. And hiking up to the overlook and writing there was peaceful.

SERENA: So that's your most unusual writing place, on top of the Sleeping Giant overlook? No computer writing for you? In terms of writing with a notebook and pen, would that change if you had a laptop and not a desktop computer?

ANNA: I don’t know if it would change if I had a laptop. I think I’d be a lot more comfortable when I’m typing, but I really like the way the pen flows on the paper. I guess I’m weird like that.

How about you? Where do you write? What’s your most unusual writing place?

SERENA: Well, you do also like the smell the pages of your books, especially new ones. That is a bit weird.

Poems are generally written in a small notebook or journal that I carry everywhere--on the subway, the bus, in the car, walking--it's always on my person. I only use those roller ball pens, usually black, but I don't discriminate if I have a different color handy. I really like the electric blue pens, speaking of how ink flows onto a page. However, there are those occasions that I write poems on the laptop, which can be anywhere from on the desk/kitchen table to the couch, the comfy leather chair my husband saved from the trash man, or the porch. Short stories are written in a variety of college-ruled notebooks, again with those roller ball pens I love so much. They only get typed up when I am ready to say it is finished, and that's when the story or novel undergoes its first editing process, as I am transcribing my written words from paper to electronic document.

The most unusual writing space for me is probably at the camera shop I used to work at. While developing and printing photos, I often had my notebook/journal out and I jotted down poems or short story ideas. Yes, I was writing away while wearing white photo developing gloves and a lab coat. I must have looked ridiculous.

ANNA: So I’m weird, and you’re ridiculous! We make quite a pair!

Those roller ball pens ROCK, and that’s what I was saying about the ink flowing on the page. I’m like you in that I’ll type after I’ve written and edited things in my notebook.

How about book reviews? You write them at the computer?

I tend to write those in my notebook first…I don’t like the pressure of the glaring white screen (or the uncomfortable computer chair, which you already know about so I’ll stop mentioning it).

SERENA: Book reviews are written on the computer at the computer desk/kitchen table. I don't write those out beforehand, but then I generally write the book reviews while the book is fresh in my mind. I tend not to wait too long to review what I've been reading because I'm likely to forget the details.

And Now for the Contest! To enter to win a subscription to Writer's Digest or a copy of Writing the Wave: Inspired Rides for Aspiring Writers by Elizabeth Ayres offered by Anna to another lucky winner!: Deadline Sept. 21 at Midnight EST

1. Answer one or all of these questions in the comments for one entry. If you comment here with the answers to these questions and on Diary of an Eccentric's post, you get two entries, one for each comment.
2. Answer these questions in your own blog for 2 entries, and link back to this post and the one at Diary of an Eccentric; Please leave a link to your blog post.
3. Tell me about your ideal writing space on either my post or Anna's post in the comments for an additional entry. No double entries for this one.

Another friendly reminder about these contests:

1. Diary of an Eccentric is holding a contest for The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold and The Choice by Nicholas Sparks Deadline is Sept. 30

2. Savvy Verse & Wit is holding a contest for Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg as the first contest for Book Blogger Appreciation Week Deadline is Sept. 19

3. Savvy Verse & Wit is holding another contest for "A Coney Island of the Mind" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti as part of BBAW; Deadline is Sept. 19

4. Bookish Ruth's contest for The Sally Lockhart Mysteries by Phillip Pullman

5. Savvy Verse & Wit's contest for a 1-year subscription to Poetry magazine. Deadline is Sept. 19

6. Savvy Verse & Wit's contest for a copy of Sylvia Plath's Ariel; Deadline is Sept. 19

Please also double-check the growing list of giveaways at My Friend Amy's blog.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed bantering with you about our writing processes! And I never get sick of seeing my flaming socks! It's almost chilly enough (at least in the mornings) for me to wear them again!

Serena said...

It was fun stay tuned for part 2 later today!

Kristi Valiant said...

I'm a children's book illustrator by trade, but I've been trying my hand at writing picture books. Since I would also illustrate the book, I try to write and visually see the illustrations together in my head. I prefer to type on my computer with my sketchbook nearby. I've tried writing in coffee shops and other places, but I think my ideal writing space is truly my studio/office. I painted the walls cobalt blue and sunshine yellow, and I have art hanging up that I adore. It's my creative spot.

Thanks for hosting this giveaway!

Serena said...

What a great spot, I would love to have my own den with photographs (my other creative passion) all over the walls.

Carolyn Crane said...

Wow, great interview. I love hearing about writing processes. Anna, I can't believe you can ever write with the TV on. I'm impressed. it would drive me crazy, though I do sometimes listen to music, but it has be very specific.

Serena said...

I can have the TV on, as long as the volume is really low and its not a movie I love or am interested in.

teabird said...

prepare myself to write by writing - in my journal, or a letter to a friend - always by hand with a fountain pen. Then I write. The journal or letter-writing is like stretching and warming up before exercise!
My favorite place to write is the cafe at Barnes & Noble - the music is perfect and ambient, I love the cinnamon scones, the large tea lasts me for a couple of hours (or I get another one). Best of all: I'm anonymous. No one asks me questions beyond "shall I leave space for milk?" It's the only place/time when I'm free of being questioned, and it frees me to focus and write.
Ideally, I'd write in my little home office - but it's so cluttered, and my husband asks me questions, and I get distracted by the chipmunks on the deck...

I loved your interview! There's going to be a part 2? WHEE!

teabird 17 at yahoo dot com

Serena said...

Teabird thanks for taking the time to comment. Your husband asks you questions too? mine does that as well. I don't like writing in bookstores because there are too many shelves with too many books to distract me.

Yes, there is a part two...later today! Same contest though.

teabird said...

Serena - I'm a librarian, so I'm used to being distracted by shelves and shelves of books!

(which is not to say that a small -ahem- pile doesn't make its way to my cafe table )

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No need to enter me, Serena. I'm just letting you know I posted about this over at Win a Book!

Serena said...

Thanks Susan!

The Bookworm said...

great post! it is interesting hearing about your writing processes.


Do you have any writing routines? No, but do carry a pen and paper everywhere and have notepads everywhere for thoughts and ideas.
Do you prefer pen and paper, or would you rather sit in front of the computer? Pen and paper get the writing out there more, the juices flowing, besides I can do swirls or hangman if I get bored or draw pretty flowers and hearts.
Have you written in odd places? Sitting up in the bathtub, after surgery in the recovery yes strange places.
My place to write is usually the bed- just when the sun is rising and its all quiet- usually.

Now I am not a writer of books but instead I am on a journey of feelings and thoughts of a nasty battle with cancer- fears, thoughts and laughter added to it, just my life but so that my kids can see my thoughts, my feelings and my fears.

Stonefox said...

Thanks for the great giveaway!

My ideal writing place is quiet and de-cluttered. It helps if my mood is good but a bit melancholy...makes for good dramatization.

Alyce said...

I can write blog posts with the tv on or my kids playing loudly, although sometimes it's hard to do when they are constantly asking me for something. For creative writing though I have to have time to myself - which is why I have pretty much given up on creative writing for the time being. I have several short stories written (rough drafts) and the plot to a novel in my head, but I don't plan to do anything with them now. Maybe when my kids are older and in school full time, then I can consider it.

Alyce said...

My ideal writing space would be at a large, clean desk in a brightly lit room (because my eyes need all the help they can get). I could write on a computer or a notepad, but I prefer to be somewhere with good lighting and lots of windows.

Serena said...


You'd be surprised what writing down those thought can turn into. Carol DIne on of the professors at my alma mater faced cancer in much the same way you are and she ended up surviving and publishing Places in the Bone, a memoir of that time.

Anything is possible, and I wish you the best of luck. Check out Dine's book if you are interested.

Serena said...

Naida: did you have a particular process for writing blog posts or an ideal writing space?

Anonymous said...

I loved reading about how and when you both write! Very interesting.

I really admire your long-standing friendship. Totally awesome!

I'd love to answer some of these questions on my blog. It may be later today or tomorrow before I get around to it. We're heading off to my nephew's YMCA football game.

Serena said...

Shana we look forward to your post! Have fun at the game!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! I love Diary of an Eccentric!

Serena said...

J. Kaye, does that mean you would like to be entered into the contest? If so, you'll have to answer the questions. :) If not, that's ok too.

Suey said...

I'm finding that I like the computer writing better than the notebook writing. Though sometimes, the notebook writing is great too.

I need music or noise. If it's music, it's better if it's instrumental, or else I end up singing along, which means my brain forgets about writing.

Also, my biggest problem is I can't seem to write if there's people around me... or the possibility of someone hanging over my shoulder. At my house, this is ALWAYS a possibility.

The other problem is I need a nice big stretch of time ahead of me... I have a hard time sitting down to write something if I only have a few minutes to spare. That's why the writing thing is always pushed to the back burner.

Serena said...

Suey: Thanks for entering the contest. I have a hard time with the husband home, that's why I said he needs to be out of the house. He asks too many questions and peers over my shoulder. I don't mind it so much when blogging, but creative writing takes more concentration and less interruption.

Anonymous said...

I posted about your Q&A HERE.

No need to enter me in the contest. My TBR pile is so out of control. I just loved the questions and wanted to participate!

P.S. Love those socks!

Serena said...

Well there is the possibility of winning writer's digest. LOL But we won't enter you if you don't want to be entered.