Questions & Authors: Making time for writing

July 24th, 2008

All writers have little habits; rituals, that get their creative juices flowing. For some, it’s a special notebook or a laptop, for others it’s a specific time of day that inspires. So we posed this question to two Stenhouse authors: What are your strategies for finding motivation to write?

Ross Burkhardt, author of Writing for Real

I’m left-handed. Back in grade school I quickly learned that whenever I wrote something, the edge of my palm would inevitably drag over the page, smearing pencil or pen marks and leaving a black or blue smudge on my hand. If I was writing in a binder, the curved metal clips inhibited my style and forced me to curve my hand even more awkwardly. So, in the early ’80’s when word processing came into my life, I felt as though I had been delivered to the promised land.

Today I use a Mac for my writing, which consists of me pecking away furiously with two fingers (I never learned to touch type). I usually begin a piece of writing by making a list of the ideas swirling in my head on any handy piece of paper —  a magazine subscription insert, a napkin, the back of an envelope, a piece of scratch paper cut from discarded drafts or e-mails. As rapidly as I can, I jot down any and all thoughts pertaining to the topic, not censoring, just recording. Then I go to my laptop, create a file, and type the hastily scribbled list, embellishing it as new thoughts occur. I print out that list and use a red pen to make additions, deletions, revisions, to switch words around, make notes, and add names or places or specific vocabulary related to the topic. As I enter these changes on my laptop, I cross out each one with a blue pen, so that should I be interrupted, I can tell at a glance what entries I have already typed and which ones still need to be entered.

My writing always goes through multiple drafts — often I’m not even sure where a particular piece is going until I am in draft 4 or 5. Poems take many attempts to get it right — I’m now on draft #23 of a recent poem and feel that I may, just may, be nearing the end of it.

I write/type in my office, at my desk, looking out the window to the Rio Grande River valley and the distant west mesa. A rhyming dictionary and a combination dictionary/thesaurus sit in the bookcase next to my desk; I use these two reference tools more than any others. I don’t need a lot of sleep, so I do a lot of my writing in the morning, often starting at 5 a.m. Jeannie is still sleeping, the house is quiet, and I can work without interruption. Once I have completed a draft, I print it out and then do something else –I find that I need time between drafts to “forget” what I said and bring somewhat fresh eyes to the text to be able to improve it.

When I take my daily walk, I carry a piece of scrap paper and a pen with which to jot down ideas that occur to me while walking, But I am essentially a word processor — the computer is the place where I set down my ideas, even my journal entries. I do not like the physical act of writing — it feels laborious, and I actually can type faster and more accurately than I can compose in longhand.

Between occasional poems, e-mail, book chapters, essays for certain occasions, commissioned poems, letters to friends and family, and journal entries, I write something every day. It’s easy — I’ve been doing it for years, and if I don’t write regularly, the ideas start to well up inside.

Jeff Anderson, author of Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing

Making space for my reading and writing time is always an essential struggle. Often I trick myself. I am just going to jot down a few ideas and before I know it, I have written much more. I will read for just a few minutes before I fall asleep. (I find that reading makes me want to write.) I also email myself ideas or thoughts I get during the teaching day. That way, I have the collections of a writer’s notebook in a searchable format.

I am an addict for notebooks, the right pen, etc., but over the last few years I’ve gone to drafting exclusively on my MacBook Pro. But I had to turn off the email alert. That helped so much. It really seems to save time too. It’s all about how I save it now.

I have a wonderful space to write, a desk that looks out a window. And I use it–sometimes. Most of the time though, I grab my laptop and write on the couch or on the porch, weather permitting. The trick for me is to get the draft going. Once I have had the time to draft, I can tinker with the writing later. I have to print things out and mark them up and then re-enter them.

I find that doing this with Judge Judy on in the background is optimal. I also get a great deal of rereading and marking of drafts and revisions on the elliptical trainer at the gym. It makes both tasks go quickly, though it’s impossible to keep your target heart rate up. But if I am writing and reading, I am happy. If I am exercising and writing or reading, my creativity soars.

Entry Filed under: Questions & Authors,Writing

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jacci B.  |  September 1st, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Thank you for sharing your insights into how you write. If you don’t mind, I’m going to read this piece to my eighth graders and then ask them to write about how THEY write. Metacognition in the works!

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