Several months ago, I was interviewed by the Scarlett Rugers Book Design Agency, for a new segment on their website called Writing Routines. Since I’m usually the one interviewing others, I took this as a test, wanting to see if I could pull off being interviewed. The following resulted (note – there is mention of constipation and how a paint splattered sweatshirt turned me into a writer).
1. Can you give us a bit of a background about yourself as a writer?
Raised in a household of boys, I often received messages that my emotions were wrong. I was too sensitive, cried too much, and needed to get over it (my mom’s leaving). I seemed to feel and sense more deeply than others, but learned to repress my thoughts and emotions – the page is where I found freedom.
When I was seven, my grandmother gave me a journal and encouraged me to write. By middle school the pages were filled, so I began writing poetry on notebook paper, and by high school, I had a selection of favorite poems I kept hidden in plastic sleeves. Throughout college I wrote non-fiction and then had a career as a producer for web and television news. It wasn’t until my second child was born that I wrote my first novel, THE LOST STORY. I’m currently in the middle of six lying, scheming friends, who learn by hiding the unlovable they can never be loved. THE SPOONSTERS is my second novel and it will be complete in March.
2. When you’re in the midst of writing a book, what does your routine typically look like?
My day starts like any other parent, corralling the kids into a carpool line and seeing them off on their daily adventure in school. When I get home, I warm my cup of inevitably cold coffee and slowly transform from mommy mode to writer mode. I rest in silence, and infuse my brain with caffeine. I may tweet a bit after that, read a motivating article – generally procrastinate – till about nine or so, and then I dive into the scene of the day. Four hours goes by in what feels like minutes and my stomach lets me know it’s time to eat. After lunch, I read for about an hour, sometimes my work, but usually another author’s. Then I do random chores and go pick up the kids. Occasionally, I write at night after the kids are asleep, and most days I read for another half hour to an hour before the night tucks me in.
3. How does your routine change when you stop writing and start editing?
My routine doesn’t change much whether I’m writing or editing. I probably read more when I’m editing because I hit upon issues I’m having trouble solving, and I want to learn how the “greats” develop their characters or plots, or even be reminded how to change up my sentence structure.
I also have a lot more anxiety with editing, so I tend to take more breaks for snacks, or Twitter, or when I’m really frustrated, my garden. Pulling weeds seems to help me figure out what darlings to kill.
4. Do you have any quirky rituals or specific writing goals to help you to focus?
When I’m really having trouble believing in myself as a writer, I put on this particular paint splattered sweatshirt. It’s soft cotton on the inside, and collegiate on the outside, with the initials of my college on it, CNU (Christopher Newport University). When I attended this school, I never felt like I fit in, and struggled through a full time schedule and 30 hours of work in the university book shop. But I made it and I did well. The sweatshirt reminds me of this period. Of how I finished what I started and was more capable than I thought.
As far as writing goals, mine is simple, to finish well – each story. Sometimes I write 500 words, but they’re good ones and I’m satisfied, then there are crazy days when I write 3,500 words. It’s more about getting through the scene then it is word count for me.
5. Can you describe the space in which you usually write?
A decluttered space with a comfortable seat and natural light are key for me when I write. So my room is my favorite spot to draft. On my bed, I sit with a host of pillows supporting my back, and when I look up from my computer, I’m staring out at oaks, pines, and maples. When editing, I choose a chair and table, either the desk in our office, or the dining table – whichever is cleaner!
6. Which software and apps help you to write? Which tools do you use?
I wrote most of the first draft of THE LOST STORY in Pages on my iPad, and then realized the editing functions were limited in this program, and switched everything over to Word. I’ve heard a lot about Scrivener and am considering getting this program.
7. What music or sounds help you to better focus?
My soundtrack is based on the scene of the day. I have a writing playlist that includes jazz, pop, alternative, gospel, and blues. All music is inspiring! Often I write in silence.
8. What kind of things completely take your focus away?
My husband and children are my greatest distraction and inspiration. It’s difficult for me to write with loud, unexpected sounds in the background, but I’m able to zone into my writing with white noise. Flexibility in writing is key to perseverance and finishing the novel. Our work environments are often filled with flames, so its no wonder our first drafts are often burnable.
9. How do you get back on track when your writing routine has broken down for a few days or more?
Author Tayari Jones wrote a blog on this and suggested journaling, which has been a passion of mine. In my greatest, most discouraged time, I took her advice, and penned a personal page. It got me on track. And still to this day, if I miss a day of “work writing,” I turn to my journal to cope with the backup of words. That’s what it feels like for me when I don’t write, I get word constipation.
10. If you could change anything about your routine, what would it be?
If I could change anything about my writing routine it would be the unexpected interruptions, which often wind up in my work. I’m learning to take life as it comes and embrace flexibility in my writing. Neighbors, friends, household appointments, school book fairs, bring new experiences to my books.
What About You
Do you have any strange or superstitious writing routines? What are you currently working on? Or are you in a rut and need a coaxing pen or magical keyboard to lure you to the page?