Friday, September 21, 2012

My Writing Life

This post is in response to reader Tara, who wanted to know more about the writing life.

Before I was a writer, here's how I pictured the job:  A wild-haired writer sits at a desk, typing madly, interrupted every now and again with a call from her agent, who wants to know how her book is coming along or report sales figures or discuss her upcoming book tour. Sometimes she removes her glasses and taps them against her teeth while gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling. She stands to stretch and yawn, looks out the window, maybe goes for a fresh cup of coffee or a contemplative walk before settling in for another few hours.

Confession:  I still think this is what life is like for blockbuster authors. Alas, I am not one of them (knock wood and never say never).

My writing life, by contrast, is very sporadic. I might write three to five hours one day, then not at all for two or three days. Or more. For years I felt guilty about that non-schedule. After all, a Real Writer would follow Steven King's advice (in his On Writing), which was basically:  1) have a writing space with a door you can close, 2) set daily writing goals, 3) don't come out until you've met them. I do have novelist friends who pretty much stick to this model.

But I've made peace with my own jackrabbit writing style because of two things:

1) I wholeheartedly believe that every bit of our lives away form writing – every book we read, every person we speak with, every place we visit, every hobby we enjoy – soaks into our beings and feeds our writing in ways big and small. Maybe some of us have wells that go dry faster than others? *shrug* So what might I be doing when I'm not writing? Lately, there's quilting, a hobby I'm just getting back into after years away. My latest project, a wall hanging:

I might be running errands. Seeing a relative. Dining out with friends. Reading. Traveling. Baking. Taking a class (right now:  Basic Drawing - loving it!). Participating in a church function. Watching a video or catching up on Facebook. Writing for this blog. Enjoying a writing retreat. Sitting in a board meeting. Answering e-mail. Visiting a school. Teaching a workshop. Walking the dog.

2) I am primarily a picture book writer. Writing picture books is very much a process, and parts of that process work best if you take mental breaks. Every story needs a cooling off period, followed by a lot of revision. A lot. So the fact that I'm not in my office 24/7 doesn't mean my mind isn't still grappling with whatever story problem has me stumped. Some (most!) of my best ideas and aha moments come to me when I'm away from my computer.

All that said, I have had a totally different routine lately, thanks to a couple of short-deadlined projects. Here's the first, due out in mid-November from National Geographic:

I'm working on a companion book now, which means I'm researching or writing or exchanging e-mails with editors pretty much all day, every day. Truthfully I've felt more like a Real Writer, working on these books, than I have for a long time. I'm loving that.

Does that mean I'll be changing my usual writing style when I go back to working on my own projects?  Um...probably not. At least not for picture book writing.

But I do have a novel in my head, so when I tackle that after the holidays, I'll be following Steven King's advice for as long as it takes to pound out that first draft:

1) Close the door.
2) Set a daily goal.
3) Write my brains out to meet it.

Look into my office. I'll be the one tapping my glasses against my teeth, gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling.

Jill Esbaum

Reminder:  If you haven't yet entered to win a copy of Lisa Cron's Wired for Story, there's still time! Missed Esther's two-thumbs-up review? Just scroll down of follow this link to Esther's post.


Jill said...

I purposely *cough cough* left a misspelling in here. Be the first to find it and I'll put your name into the novel into which I'm about to plunge.


Jill said...

Oops! I also misspelled Stephen King's name! But that's not the typo I was referring to in the comment above. Find the OTHER one, and your name will be in my novel manuscript.

Pat Zietlow Miller said...

Away form writing instead of away from writing? I didn't even notice until I read your comments and went back and looked.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

I loved this post, Jill.
Thanks for making me feel normal.
Katherine Paterson wrote - and I'm paraphrasing here - that the very people who take us - away - from our writing are the very people who give us something to write about.
I share this sentiment often with with writers overwhelmed by parenting and jobs. :)

Jill said...

Yes! That's correct, Pat. Consider yourself included in my novel. :)

Jill said...

Excellent quote, Esther. I agree 100%.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

I am pretty much like you except right now when I am revising. That quilt looks fun.

Jill said...

The quilt WAS fun. I've always liked the look of pinwheels. And revision is my favorite part of writing. :)

Linda B said...

Great to hear about your process, and that most of us are writing in our heads wherever we are. Thanks!

Jill said...

You're very welcome, Linda. Guess we don't have to worry too much about all that writing going on in our heads until we start talking to ourselves in public places!

jan godown annino said...

Fun post!

I too value the guidance in ON WRITING by King.

And I think your vivid term jack rabbit for how
your mind/body/days follow your work,
is teriffic.

Many thanksto Jill E..

and always, collectively, to the T.A. creatives.

Jill said...

Thanks, Jan! The Jackrabbit popped into my head because I had been researching them this summer. :)

April Halprin Wayland said...

That jackrabbit is me, too, Jill. Thanks for being honest and for validating the hiccupping way I write.

I also loved the way you *shrug*

Jill said...

Glad to hear I'm not alone! :)