To be writers, we must write. The old a– in chair dictum is still true, though a lot of us now like standing desks. Despite the fact that most of us write into an electronic device, writing still takes place in real time and physical space.
When I turned my life upside down and shook it like an Etch-a-Sketch, I lost the writing spaces that I had so carefully crafted. I said good-bye to my Christine de Pizan desk at the school, my standing desk at my mom’s apartment, my bilateral workspace built from Elfa components in the tiny house. I also said good-bye to my routine, my writing circle that kept me on task, and my lovely drawer of colorful paperclips and post-it pads. Even the weeks in my calendar now begin on the wrong day.
I exchanged a host of distractions and time-swallowers for another set. It no longer takes me thirty minutes to run an errand in traffic, but it takes me that long to walk to the grocery store. People no longer phone me out of the blue to ask a question about their story or get my advice on local print shops. Now, I’m writing it all in an email. Now, I’m cooking (if you can call it that) for my mom instead of shipping her down to the dining room in The Home.
All this has me thinking about essentials. What does it really take to write? And I think this question is as individual, as intimate, as our inner personhoods. When we write, we go deep into our own psychologies, our own special longings and emotional baggages and inherited quirks. Some of us crave order. Some of us thrive in creative messiness. But along that spectrum, there are a thousand variations. I want to be able to get my desk orderly, but I love a messy bulletin board. I totally mistrust a narcissistic bulletin board where the notes, cartoons, and inspirational bookmarks are all lined up.
Some people want to curl up in a cozy chair with a pen and paper. Some of us have to have a long work space. I am one of these. I say it’s because of all my research books, but I think it also has to do with my inner need to see the big picture, to feel that I’m in control of the whole situation.
Then there’s time. The Italian is tempo, which in English speaks of rhythm and repetition and pace. I like that because that, too, is what we must have. Not only time to write but time that is predictable, that we can anticipate, and that, for goodness sake, returns again and again. Too many people get a flash of inspiration and write furiously for half a day and then not again for months.
We must be able to control time, at least to a certain extent. For that we have devised schedules, calendars, to-do lists. Which ones we like—which ones work—depends, once again, on our personalities and our core needs. Actually, all these time management systems are like diets. They all work if you use them consistently and for long enough. They don’t work when they don’t address our inner, psychological needs.
As writers, we have a host of options to approach both time and space. So since I’m in the throes of “rewriting” my writing routine, I thought it would be fun to have a call-in session where we explore various ways that writers have found to nest and to control time.
I hope this will be the forerunner of a series of these type calls on topics of interest to writers. This first one is free. Later, we will charge an affordable fee to raise money for the Village Writing School.
We are taking the first ten who sign up here. The date is Thursday November 2nd from Noon – 1pm CT. After you sign up, we will send you simple instructions to call in for free with either your phone or computer.
I’ll be throwing out a lot of options which you might not have considered but which might be just what you’re looking for. Cool writing spaces in tiny places. Time management at the level of the month or the minute. Many ways to carve writing out of both space and time.
As I prepared to leave for Italy, so many people asked me: what will happen to the Village Writing School? But if you’ve seen our catalog, with workshops scheduled all the way through February, you know the Village Writing School is going strong.
For six months before I left, the Board and I worked diligently to make sure the school had a runway and a great momentum. When I told Alice French, Board member and Co-Founder, that I was planning workshops for six months, she said, “You do that and I’ll create a catalog.” If you haven’t seen it yet, you can see it HERE. It’s awesome. (Give it a few seconds to load.)
I always said, “I am not the Village Writing School. Our teachers, our attendees bring their talents and energy and passion and experience. I just unlock the door.”
So I’m not worried about what will happen to the school while I’m in Italy. I’m more worried about what will happen to me while I’m gone. Our people are my tribe. That’s why I FaceTime into every workshop, Chats with the Editor, and many Writers’ Nights Out. Keep in mind that for Writers’ Night Out, I have to get up at 1 a.m. because Italy is seven hours later than Arkansas. But I do it because I believe in the importance of a writing community. That has been one of the cornerstones of the VWS since the beginning. I can’t imagine not seeing Alan and Carol, Debbie and Greg, Alice and Gene and . . .
Here I am joining in for a toast at Writers’ Night Out, where I’m really just a little too big:
In this discussion, there’s a munchkin on the top shelf:
There’s a ton of administration work done via email—writing press releases, answering questions, etc.—and I still do a lot of that. I’m working on the spring/summer workshop line-up now. I’m also trying to think of ways that I can contribute to our programming and to the support and inspiration that we have to offer writers and those who are about to begin writing.
I always said I was 60% writer and 40% teacher. (And I encourage you to put percentages to YOUR passions because that is very helpful in seeing if you are honoring the most important ones.) So, I’m working with a consultant to create a call-in program where we discuss a writing topic. Since I am right now in the throes of creating a writing routine after throwing all the pieces of my life into the air like confetti, it’s appropriate that our first topic of discussion will be “How to Craft a Writing Routine.”
I’m not pretending to have all the answers. So this discussion will be about the various ways authors have managed their time and space. Everyone from Stephen King to . . . well . . . me.
I will announce the time and date next week, look for it. I hope you will think about joining us as I am excited about some of the material I have to discuss, including a “system” designed by our own Alice French (amazing how her name keeps coming up). This call is something that anyone, anywhere can call in to, so those of you who are too far away to attend a workshop can totally join me for this.
The Village Writing School is rocking because of planning. Creating a writing routine is all about planning. And what about your writing? Do you plan for it? Long-term. Of course we all plan to do it. But do we plan on how to do it? Planning is what gives your writing a fighting chance to thrive. Planning is what makes a book launch a real LAUNCH.
I hope you’ll join us at many of the VWS workshops and events either in person or online. I can’t tell you how much the Village Writing School means to me, and I urge you to discover our high-quality instruction and laid-back friendliness for yourself.
As creatives, we often imagine a life in which our art comes first, where the environment, the schedule, our friends–EVERYTHING fuels our creative energy, and we turn out massive amounts of beautiful work. Whether we dream of a Walden Pond cabin or a Soho loft, many of us can imagine a radically creative life. I recently shared the news with you of some major changes I am making in my life: moving to Italy with my 89-year-old mother and tiny dog in order to write my next novel. So come with me on a journey as we seek a radically creative life. Imagine . . .
You arrive at your charming Tuscan apartment where your landlord gives you the keys. He is a pleasant soul who speaks no English and, for some reason, can’t understand your Italian. Yet you are able to convey that you wish the apartment had a full-sized refrigerator rather than the little under-counter one, and he gallantly offers you a new one he has in storage.
But when she sees the apartment, your mother is appalled. “I’m not staying here. It’s about to fall down. It’s not safe. I’m going to a hotel.” But you will not take her to a hotel, so she goes to bed and covers up her head after throwing her cane on the floor in a little hissy fit.
The driver you hired to deliver you from the airport takes pity on you and takes you to a furniture store where you buy your mother the nifty electric recliner you chose last time you were here when you envisioned her sitting by the window with the beautiful Tuscan view. You also order a wardrobe for your clothes as your brain is spinning as to how you can possibly make these two rooms work since the front one, with the kitchen in one end, is mostly full of a monstrous sofa. You buy a microwave because your mother believes it to be a necessity and the crux of a civilized life.
The driver hauls the recliner back. She hates it. You stop and get food, pizza which even you think is tough. She hates it.
In your jet-lagged exhaustion, you lay awake and try to figure out how to arrange the apartment. You want to use the long table for a writing space. You want a full-size refrigerator. There is a bright flash in your head. Maybe an idea or perhaps the precursor to a stroke. Get rid of the sofa that takes up half the front room and which your mother says is the most uncomfortable thing God ever made.
You and your mother are living out of your carry-ons because you dare not unzip the huge suitcases until the wardrobe arrives. There is no where to unfold them and you envision your stuff exploding out with no where to put it. But your three huge suitcases are alike and you’ve packed your things with your mom’s. She is appalled that she can’t have her house shoes, so you gingerly insert your hand in each suitcase and feel around, but it is hopeless.
The apartment that looked so cute when you were here with your 20″ suitcase now looks crammed with decorative items. You pile knickknacks and excess kitchen clutter outside in the garden. You take down the huge, very realistic nude that causes your mother to shake her head. She is convinced she is in the last circle of hell. And where is her Chapstick?
The landlord comes and you break the news to him that you really don’t have room for the monstrous sofa hide-a-bed and could he take it away? He is stunned and explains to you with gestures that he will have to take the thing apart to get it out the door. You smile sweetly with a look you hope conveys your complete confidence in his ability to pull this off.
He sighs and gets tools. Indeed, by the time he is through, the thing is in 20 pieces. Then he brings you a full-sized refrigerator to replace the apartment one. He has stored this new refrigerator in the cellar below your apartment. Extremely narrow, turning stairs lead down to an arched door about five feet high. Watching him and one other man bring up the refrigerator distracts you for a while. He loads all the bric-a-brac you piled in the garden into the microwave box.
Your dog is constipated. No wait. She’s not.
Your mother is so pleased to be rid of the sofa, she agrees to go out to dinner. But the restaurant you hoped would be open is not. The other one within walking distance for her won’t open for another hour and a half. You’re both exhausted. The little shop where you once bought salads and veggies and the most amazing green beans now seems to have nothing but pizza. Your mother is convinced you are going to starve her to death. And where is her nail file?
Miraculously, the wardrobe is delivered at 8:30 a.m. You immediately unpack to excavate the house shoes, Chapstick, and nail file, stacking both beds full of stuff. Then you realize you have no hangers. You walk to the store you expect to have hangers. They have ironing boards and clothes pins and all manner of clothing paraphernalia. But no hangers. The young woman tells you that you must go to the Lego Store. You know exactly how far that is. You sigh.
At the Lego Store, which seems to have nothing to do with Legos, you buy hangers and cardboard storage boxes. Paper towels, washcloths. You can’t haul it all. You buy a rolling bag. You stop and get very expensive restaurant food to take home.
Your landlord is there, reversing the refrigerator doors, plastering over holes left by a shelf he had to move to put the refrigerator where you wanted it, rehanging the shelf over your workspace. Suddenly there is a crash in the back room. Your mother has let the back of her recliner hook under one side of the open window and as she raised the back, she lifted the window off its hinges. It is a beautiful thing, solid oak frame, and pretty sturdy because it did not break when it hit the tile floor. The landlord cannot understand why the window should suddenly jump off its hinges. Your mother murmurs to you what happened. You don’t want to tell the landlord, but finally you do because he is so agitated that he can’t figure it out and also because he is looking at you both as if you might be a pair of witches.
He leaves. You bring out the restaurant food which your mother declares to be “good but weird.” You consider this progress. You hang up all the clothes, assemble the storage boxes and sort stuff. The refrigerator is humming. You will write, you tell yourself. You will . . .