The Sound of Writing

Many years ago, when I had fully transitioned out of theatre and into the corporate world, I would listen to my old rehearsal tapes on my commute to work. I loved the sound of learning a piece of music: the music director counting off the beat, breaking down a phrase into sections of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass—discussing the interpretation of the music, bad notes, fixed notes, laughter, and then putting it all back together.

Bit by bit, putting it together.

-Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George

(Oh yes, Mr. Sondheim, we will talk about you someday soon, my friend…)

These days, I am drawn to the sound of authors discussing their writing and creative process.

Do they write early in the morning or late into the night?

Where do they find their ideas?

What do they find most challenging about writing?

Seth Meyers recently interviewed Paul Beatty regarding his book The Sellout. There is some interesting conversation here about Beatty’s writing philosophy, including the question- Are you a Completionist or a Perfectionist? Hm…

 

 

 

The Spark of Childhood Memories

As a snowstorm worked its way across the country this weekend, I was taken back to my favorite memories from childhood. We only got a dusting here in Atlanta, but early Saturday morning, I could hear kids in the neighborhood laughing and screaming as they played outside.

For me, a snow day began with the strategic layering of clothing: long underwear, jeans, turtleneck, sweatshirt, and then ski pants and a puffy jacket. Each foot wore two pairs of socks, a plastic baggie, and boots lined with fleece. Of course I wore mittens, a hat, and a scarf too.

My brother and I would step outside to play, moving at the warp speed of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

With our backs in the snow, we’d sweep our arms and legs to make angels. We’d roll onto our stomachs and crunch the snow in our mittened hands, testing it for density and stick. The best snow would stick together for the perfect snowball, which could be rolled across the yard to make the ultimate snowman.

We’d build forts out of the huge mounds of snow lining the freshly-shoveled driveway. I liked to carve shelves and buckets out of the pile. Then, we’d pack snowballs, stockpiling them in our forts for a snowball fight with friends.

Those were the best days. Playing hard. Sweating in my snowsuit even though it was minus-something degrees out.

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It is fun to tap into those childhood memories. Even though they were many years ago, time-traveling through them is a vivid experience.

And maybe that is why, Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, recommends childhood memories as an inspiration point for writing.

“Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”

She goes on to describe how to branch out from there. Beyond, “just sit and write,” as some authors advise, Lamott provides tangible exercises for writing. She also shares anecdotes from her life. Reading Bird by Bird is like taking a writing semester with Lamott as the professor (Oh, to dream!).

There is a reason why Bird by Bird is one of the most recommended books for writers. If you’ve already read it, it may be time to read it again. And if you’ve lost your will to sit and write, start with the spark of a childhood memory.

Ann Patchett

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My friend K— is always a reliable source for book recommendations, and about seven years ago, she suggested that I read Bel Canto. I checked the paperback out of the library. It was my first Ann Patchett book. Not only was I instantly captured by her writing, but I remember the setting and the plot were different from anything I had ever read.

Whenever I find a new author (new to me anyways), I research their list of publications and start to work my way through each book. After Bel Canto, I read The Patron Saint of Liars and then State of Wonder. State of Wonder haunts me and stays with me still.

Patchett writes about the human experience and connections in traditional and non-traditional settings. I think I find her books so powerful because she creates such vivid characters with real struggles, mistakes, and pain.

I continued to read my way through her work, and then I tried to figure out how she does it— how she creates those stories that hold my heart and sit in my chest as I turn to the last page. Continue reading

Five Tips to Maximize One Hour of Writing

When I took a short story fiction writing workshop earlier this year, I wasn’t sure I’d have any energy left to write after a long day at the office- but I had a deadline, and when you have a deadline, you become inventive with your time.

In addition to writing at night, I decided to try writing during my lunch hour—and I was surprised at how much I got done in that limited amount of time.

Whether if it’s first thing in the morning, after you drop off the kids at school, or right before bed, you can still make progress writing in just one hour a day.

Here are five tips to maximize one hour of writing:

  • Book it: Reserve your calendar like you would any other important commitment.
  • Make it a habit: If you can plan to write at the same time every day, it will become a habit. If you have to be flexible with the time of day, that’s okay too, which adds to my next point…
  • Find any space: You might need to be flexible with your writing space. This is counterintuitive to the idea of finding a sacred writing space and shutting out the world. If you have only one hour between other commitments, you might need to get used to writing on the go- in a potentially noisy space like a coffee shop or restaurant.
  • Plan for your next session: When you’re finished with your hour, make notes for your next writing session. Jot down where you left off and where you want to go next. Your “notes to your future self” (as I call them) will give you momentum for your next session.
  • Take notes: Your hour of writing will inspire more ideas at other times of the day. Be prepared to take notes in a notebook, digital notebook, or audio app.

Figure out what works for you, and you will discover time in your schedule you didn’t know you had. Even a few pages at a time will add up with consistent effort.

 

 

Tackling the Page

I was catching up on my DVR last night and saw Tahereh Mafi interviewed on Late Night with Seth Meyers. I love watching Seth’s interviews (yes, we are on a first-name basis) because he is so engaged with his guests, and he asks such interesting questions.

Tahereh Mafi has written the Shatter Me series, and her latest book is Furthermore. They discussed how she got started, her love of reading, and the rejected manuscripts that taught her about writing.

Her writing style compared to her husband’s writing style was also fascinating to me. I love hearing how other writers tackle the page.

There is so much great writing motivation-inspiration-information in this interview. Check it out!

 

The Fiction Writing Workshop…a.k.a Tackling New Terrain

A few months ago, I returned from a vacation at the Grand Canyon. After tackling some new terrain, I was feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle some life goals too.

With perfect timing, there in my Facebook feed was an advertisement for a short story fiction writing workshop. It met on Wednesday nights for an hour and a half, and it ran for six weeks. I could handle that! It wouldn’t interfere with my work schedule. It was a short commitment, and it would be the chance to try fiction writing again.

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Our main assignment for the workshop was to write a short story. The only other guidelines were that the story had to be ten to fifteen pages long, double spaced, and emailed to the class the Friday before our next meeting. I was in the first group, so I had a little more than one week to prepare my story. Continue reading