Writing Habits

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Working on Scags at 30 has been an exciting albeit troubling experience. Too many interruptions of the deepest kind–too many deaths and too many illnesses have caused me to constantly lose focus. That shattering of my concentration is something other writers have discussed with me as well.

What to do?

I am not the sort of person who can just dive into work no matter where I am. I have to make the space my own in some way–putting my books on the table; pacing the space and exercising in it; sitting for long periods of time staring into space. Something is needed to help me get to work that resembles the things I do at home.

While writing in a laundry room in the Cooperstown KOA recently, I remembered one of the habits I had while working on Scags at 7. I used to write copiously in the margins. What I wrote became like a personal diary of my thoughts as they helped or hindered my work.

That practice became such a useful tool that when I started teaching writing, because it doesn’t matter what genre you write, I encouraged my students to use that practice as well. Soon, I discovered that John Steinbeck had also used a journal to help him write East of Eden. On the recto page he wrote his draft and on the verso page he wrote to his editor every morning before he started writing the draft. It is fascinating reading for any writer. (Here’s a good review of it http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-journal-of-a-novel-by-john-steinbeck-1819459.html)

Many writers do this without knowing they do it. At one time, Yahoo had a very good journal keeping tool that allowed me to write to myself every day so that I could get the wheels moving. I gave myself 15 minutes and then I had to turn to the novel (Scags at 18) and move it along.

The earlier technique of mine was to write in the margins themselves. This was when my own writing was clearer and I could read what I had written, even the tiny notes about what it was at that moment that was keeping me from saying what I knew or thought I knew needed to be said.

Writing early drafts is the hardest work as all writers know. Revising is a joy and I always look forward to that work. But the really difficult choices are made early on and with great fear and caution because the choices we make are the ones that will determine whether we are risking enough and saying it well enough to help a reader understand what is at stake in the story they are reading.

(We are now home due to my wife being sick and my mother in hospice. This raises another level of fear when it comes to writing Scags at 30 but I am doing it and with some pleasure. If you can help us to cover some of the costs of what Sullivan Street Press is doing, please use this website to donate whatever you can. Thanks in advance.) http://www.gofundme.com/yw769w

Fresh from The Farm–2015 Summer Road Trip

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It took us almost a full day to set up our campsite at a KOA near Cooperstown, NY, the first stop on our road trip. Six nights of sleeping in our new tent at a campsite set in the midst of vast farmland has meant relaxing into a more quiet environment except for the cows and birds and the coyotes howling and screaming at night. Tranquility is not an overrated state of being.

A lot like heaven, I can say. This kind of quiet is essential for any type of creative work, whether like me you are writing a novel, or you just need to re-calibrate how you live your life. Resetting time’s hold can be an awakening to the greater necessities of one’s soul.

I don’t think everyone must sleep in a tent and walk blocks each day to go to the bathroom, but there is something altered in the day’s rhythm when most of “where” I am has no equivalence to the “normal” life I lead in my urban spaces. We arrive, unpack and set up our tent and gazebo, organize our food, cook our meals surrounded by trees, wildlife (and some not so wild as in the cows grazing around here), a plethora of bugs and all manner of wild flowers. We live within what weather and our energy allows for. So windy nights are fine but not great for putting up our tent, which can become a large kite. Cool is fine to sleep in, but not too cool for those long walks to the bathroom late at night.

At first, my body resists and resents this arduous life. While I’m singing here the praises of an outdoor life, it will be weeks into this trip until my whole being can sing in unison about the benefits of living outdoors. When I uproot myself from the ordinary, from an office space, a routine, friends, adjustments need to be made and over a 2-month period, those adjustments and the work are ongoing as we move from place to place.

The physical and mental aspects of our nomadic life are thrilling. Yet, or more precisely, more consequentially, the creative adjustments are even more thrilling and challenging. Writing Scags at 30 while on the road is a first-time experience for me and this has become the most difficult adjustment for me. Please stay tuned for the things I learn to do and not to do while writing at picnic tables in campsites and while sitting in the car. Being several places at once, real and imaginary, is quite a trip, pun intended.

We’re running a donation page for Sullivan St. Press, please give here: www.gofundme.com/yw769w

We’re Leaving in the Morning, Join Us

The writer/publisher at work.

Getting on the road, is for us, one of the best reasons to be alive. It connects us to the world, to new people, we see things we won’t see or experience sitting at home and just imagining it. We must be there, right there, wherever “there” is.

What makes getting on the road for us two old ladies one of the most thrilling parts of our lives is that it grounds us, it gives us a place inside ourselves that is almost immutable. The spiritual and emotional healing that occurs when we sleep on the ground, wake up to see the sunrise over a forest or a lake, when we fall almost on our asses looking at the stars at night, each one of those traditional and expected elements of camping are true and truer because they ring that way for everyone who loves to spend time outdoors.

Our car is almost packed. For the first time, we are ready to go before we need to pull out of the driveway. This forward momentum is about being in tune with a need. We discovered it almost from the start of our love affair with camping. My wife and I were in an awful part of the country where lots of road work was making the air sooty and the noise of it was disturbing. We weren’t in some beautiful spot but in some out of the way town in Indiana. We were driving out west for the first time with all our camping gear.

The day was hot, lit by that white light of Midwestern summer sun blasting around us as loudly as the noise of the construction. It is a wonder we felt as we did. Yet, we both looked at each other and realized we were nomads. Constitutionally, we were meant to travel and to be places like that, along with all the beautiful places too. We are meant to be on the road, to be not some beat poets looking for our manhood, but as women who need to be in touch with the entire, or as much of the entire world, as our car can take us to.

Our trips have taken us to so many places. We have made 9500 mile round trips to the west. We have circled the southern United States. We have visited the homes of many American writers, Welty, Faulkner, O’Connor, Sandburg, Wolfe, Cather. Visiting their homes gives us a deeper connection to their work. We enter into places needing to hear what each one has to say. That is one of the keys as to why our trips are so successful. We can never hear enough of the stories that strangers tell us. At night, while we watch the fire or lie in our sleeping bags, we recount these stories to each other. They are the treasures we bring back to share with others.

Join us on this trip by following us here: www.facebook.com/sullivanstpress

If you can help us support the press as well, that would be most appreciated: gofund.me/yw7169w

Why We Need Your Help

The writer/publisher at work.

Today we are getting ready to leave town. I know that doesn’t sound like a good reason for us to need your help. So, let’s get the mundane out of the way first and then get to the real reasons you’ll want to help us.

We travel, in part, to see what is going on in the world of books, what libraries are like, what the bookstores carry, where they are, where they have disappeared. While we are on the road, we also talk to everyone we meet about books (and enlist them in the Scags at 7 Video Project–more about that in a later post). The fixed expenses for this company include web fees, cell phones, marketing costs, supplies, books and so forth. That’s where we can lag behind. (Go to this link for samples of all our books and links to your favorite bookstores: http://sullivanstpress.com)

Now the exciting part–we are small, we are slow but we are daring. We have so many stories to tell that if we are invited to a party, we threaten to take over the entire conversation with all we have learned about books, the history of publishing in this country, how our libraries developed and grew, where the money came from, why there are agents, where they came from, what it means to be a bestselling author now, what it meant 50 years ago, what it will take to get the big corporate publishers to be more transparent and how we can help both other writers and readers gain the knowledge they need to understand this wonderful world of books.

Our mission statement from the first day we became a publisher was:

“Sullivan Street Press is in business to change the publishing paradigm”

Yes, we are, and you too can be a significant part of this paradigm shift.

I hope what we begin to share with you on this blog won’t be surprising but will be horrifying. That you, like us, will want to get involved in making the necessary changes to a part of the democratic process (that is what publishing is all about–keeping citizens informed of what the world is all about). We can’t let it slip away. Don’t let it slip away.

Stay with me on this blog as we explore more and more of what is happening in the publishing world and how it will affect all authors and all readers. That is really the point. What the big publishers decide to do will affect what you read and where you will find the books and how much you pay for them. Their decisions too will determine who gets to be published and what kinds of stories can be told. We cover this beat in ways no other publisher dares to, so stay tuned for lots of these stories.

Your donations will also help us to get this information out to more readers who also need to know what is being slowly taken away from us–a free press.

Here’s the link to our campaign: GoFundMe.com/yw769w

(Just as you might share the links to our books with friends, please also share our call for help; it is most sincerely appreciated.)