Friday, February 15, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: A Look Inside

Yesterday, Lynne posted an interview with Chris Bohjalian, a fascinating look inside a talented writer's literary life. Chris writes at the same time each day, and dedicates time every afternoon to publicity of his work. What writing routines and rituals serve your writing, and which don't? Making a literary life involves a bit of trial and error when it comes to learning the parts of your process that serve the story and those that do not. Here's a glimpse inside our writing routines. Feel free to share yours.

Lisa Marnell
An hour or more in the early morning or a couple hours in late evening seem to be the only time the Muse feels welcome in my home -- Come anytime! Mi Casa es su casa. So every morning, my first task is to turn on my laptop and write. I rarely write during the day, if ever; that's time for the rest of my life: work at my school for children with autism, my own kids, errands, exercise, sports -- did I mention my hockey team's in fourth place out of four teams? I need space from writing for it to be remotely good. It's like water building above a dam: I fight the urge then at night I release the gates, for better or for worse.

Amy MacKinnon
Writing process? My background is in politics and like that old chestnut about sausages, you don't want to see how it's done. It can get pretty ugly around here. After months of getting to know my protagonist (they usually talk while I'm cleaning, showering, they chatter a lot during shivasina), then I sit at my computer and begin to tell their story. The problem is they tell me where it all started, how it ended, but are a little reticent about the time inbetween. That's when I pull out my hair and chomp on wasabi peas to fight the stress. Sometimes I'm up before dawn to write, other times I have to vaccuum before settling into writing. There are periods where I write every day and others where I can't get the words out for days on end. Basically, I haven't a routine and that scares the hell out of me.

Hannah Roveto
My bottom-line commitment to myself is at least five days per week, for at least two hours, but I can sometimes get in as many as six. I get the daily personal/family/work check-in routines finished by eight-thirty or nine, and try to do as much as I can in the morning. The number of hours depends on my Paying Job, which is generally writing as well, but a different animal than fiction. When things are busy, I carve out two hours -- first thing, lunchtime, late afternoon if the kids don't need taxi service -- whatever I can make work. My lovely bosses always apologize when things are slow, and I always assure them it's not a problem in the least! I create additional time beyond the weekday routine as I can, at the least to read through what I've done and make notes. The more time, the more ideal of course, but a minimum commitment even on busy stretches means a steady push forward.

Lynne Griffin
I work on my novel four or five days per week for six or seven hours at a time. Early morning is my most productive time and I sit with my laptop near a window. I keep a journal for each novel, it's filled with thoughts that come to me in between writing times, character sketches and occasionally a chapter outline. When I'm writing a first draft, I think about my story constantly. And at the end of each writing day, my husband reads my pages. While he doesn't provide much feedback at this early stage, he enjoys the first glimpse into the story.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Chris Bohjalian for agreeing to the interview posted yesterday and for sharing so generously his literary life. We all wish Chris the best of luck with his latest releases.


Lisa said...

Now and then I can get into a routine where I'm able to write in the evenings -- usually not until after midnight when everything is finally quiet, but more often the majority of my writing is done in chunks on the weekends. It's frustrating because when I'm able to have longer stretches of time to write daily, I can get into a rhythm. When I have to skip days at a time, it's all gone cold and takes a while to jump back in.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Like Lisa, if I skip a few days, I'm rusty when I finally get back to it. I find that I get good ideas just when I'm falling asleep (which requires me to get out of bed and jot down the idea right then) and when I'm first waking up. I think it's that sort of dream-like semi-conscious state). I try to write for a few hours every morning. Then I go back and give it a second look in the afternoons. Not much happens after about 5 p.m. Now that I'm in the final (please, please, please be final!) revision stage, I'm even snatching an hour or two on Saturday and Sunday to write.

Anonymous said...

Amy described my non-routine perfectly. I worry, too, about the off days, the days when I stare at a blank screen or play hooky for hours on end. But, so far, when I'm ready, when the story is ready, I don't have a lot of trouble picking up where I left off. I keep thinking one of these days I'm going to formalize a routine, but, well, you know how that is.

Anonymous said...

I am like this...furiously writing for days sometimes weeks on end. Forget job, forget family, write write and write.
Till I get a hangover. I can't write for days or weeks. It sort of balances out at the end.

Carleen Brice said...

My routine changes. Right now I'm sort of in a groove of writing a couple of hours before noon and coming back to it late in the afternoon, early eve through the night. And since I'm on deadline--it's every day!