Writing Habits

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

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