Quantcast

Writing and Writing Spaces, Part 1

Day 5 of Writing in Metaphor and Imagery for Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) has me thinking about the writing process, and how different writers respond to their muses or at least begin to write their book reviews. Whether you are a book reviewing blogger, a poet, a novelist, a short-story writer, or any other type of writer, the writing process is often a struggle within yourself, a struggle to find time enough to write, and a journey unto itself. Anna of Diary of an Eccentric and I have known each other for over a decade, and it’s hard to believe we have known each other that long. We both hit it off as freshman college roommates when we both learned that we were writers and taking a correspondence course through the mail on writing children’s books. We’ve been close friends—our husbands even joke that we act more like sisters—co-workers, classmates, and partners in a variety of literary projects.

She and I started talking about our writing processes, and I figured what a great way to start up a dialogue among our book blogging friends as part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week. She and I have had very different processes, and I remember the days when my need for loud music (either musicals like the Phantom of the Opera or heavy metal) while I wrote drove her crazy.

Hey Anna, aka Diary of an Eccentric, I’ve been wondering how you prepare mentally for writing? Does ambient noise bother or inspire you? And does your mood influence what you write?

ANNA: I don’t do much mental preparation for writing blog posts and book reviews. I have a schedule in my head (because I lose all the darn sticky notes), so I already have an idea what to write. But when it comes to my novel and short stories, etc., I try to block out the real-life things that affect my mood (screaming kid, bad day at work, bills) and try to channel my characters. There are times when I don’t have to do much preparation at all, and my pen takes me on some wonderful adventures that I had no idea were inside my head. I can’t write with lots of background noise. I have to wait until my daughter is in bed or not in the mood to bother me, and I can’t watch television at the same time. (It’s so hard to go a day without watching Hogan’s Heroes!) But I have a play list on my iPod where I stick songs that fit the mood of my novel, listening to them helps the words flow. Of course my mood affects my writing! I wrote some of my best poems when I was depressed. Then I had to find my husband and become a mom, which put me in a good mood most of the time, and the poetry muse is either hiding in disgust or gone for good. I don’t mind so much about the loss of my poetry; I’m glad I have a happy home life!

SERENA: You haven’t given up on writing sticky notes because I’ve seen all of those notes all over your desk and books. I remember in college you used to hate studying in the same room with me because I had to have the radio on loudly. I assume that would still drive you crazy.

So would you say that you are like Stephenie Meyer in the sense that you have a play list for particular projects or just a particular play list for creative writing in general?

I think the poetry muse is just pissed you never had any of her children published! Just Kidding.

ANNA: Yeah, I’ll admit I still use the sticky notes, but once I write them, I don’t really look at them again. (What’s the point of writing them, you might ask. I ask myself that, too.)

I think you’re forgetting that it was my stereo, so it was on my side of the room. Actually right next to my desk, so when you’d grab the remote and turn the music up, I was deaf for three days afterward!

As for the play list, I set it up for my novel. Since I’ve been working on it for awhile (I’m going to tell you to shut up before you say anything because I know what you’re going to say!), it’s the only play list I’ve used. If I ever finish this one and start another, I’ll let you know whether I need a new play list.

I didn’t mean to upset the muse…I just never felt the urge to publish my poetry. The one poem I read at the Sigma Tau Delta convention in St. Louis (how many years ago was this??)…I just don’t know if I can go through the rejections with that one. The others are far, far from being ready for publication. You’ll have to publish them for me when I’m gone.

SERENA: Well, you know that I will publish them when you are gone, which I hope is not for a very, very, very (ok you get the picture) long time.

ANNA: As long as the muse doesn’t have a murderous streak, I should be okay!
Anyway…tell me about your mental preparation? Do you need loud music for creative writing, or was it just a way to keep yourself awake while reading that boring political science stuff in college? Do your moods affect your writing?

SERENA: I hope muses don’t have murderous streaks because I could be in trouble; I haven’t had anything published in a couple of years.

In college, I admit that the radio was my way of staying awake while reading that boring poli-sci stuff I already learned in honors history in high school…we all know what happened if I wasn’t listening to music, I was asleep and never made it to my 8AM class. Thank goodness, they invented iPods.

Ok, preparing my mental space first requires the husband to either be asleep or out of the house! When I sit down to write, I must have some kind of ambient distraction. Whether that is music or the television will depend on my mood. I tend to listen to a particular group or genre of songs for the novel and poetry it can be any music. As for the short stories, I tend to work on those in silence or with the television going, which I think is akin to the fact that I find short story writing harder. As you can tell, I am long-winded!

Moods, hmmm, I have a wide variety of those. I used to write poetry only when depressed, but now I tend to be most poetic when I’m contemplative. (is that a word? English grammar and spelling don’t fail me now!) Whether there is something on the television, in the real world, or just something I come across and I have time to the think about it (who has much of that these days) I will jot down a few lines. I also have been inspired by books I’m reading to write a couple lines or stanzas of a poem, which you can find out more about in Jill’s interview of me for BBAW. Anyway, to make the story short, I think poetry is impacted by my mood. Where the novels and short stories come from I have no idea, although there was that one that came from a dream!

ANNA: I think it’s cool that stories come to you in dreams! (Now I’ll assume the nagging friend role…have you worked on that story lately, young lady??) I also remember you jolting awake, climbing down from the loft bed, and rummaging around on your desk to jot down poetry ideas in the middle of the night. That darn banker’s lamp was too bright for my sensitive eyes! Do you still do that?

SERENA: I actually find that poetry comes more now when I am awake on the bus, subway, walking down the street, or just observing something on television or reading a book, among other things. THAT short story is in hibernation until I have fresh eyes to look at it again. I’m following Stephen King’s advice from On Writing.

And it was only that one story that came in a dream!

ANNA: Do you have any other writing book recommendations?
Personally I like The Novelist Boot Camp by Todd Stone.

SERENA: I love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont and the 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. I still have not read The Novelist Boot Camp; it may be the army green color of the book that makes me nervous.

So once you are prepared mentally to write, where do you physically plunk yourself down and get to work?


ANNA: Sometimes I write blog posts on the train, but never my novel or stories. I don’t like people looking over my shoulder. At home, I’ll sit on the couch with a notebook and my lapdesk, or if the husband insists on having the TV on, I’ll go upstairs and lay on the bed to write. I’ve always preferred a notebook/journal to writing at the computer. I sit at a computer 8 hours a day for work, and I don’t find those computer chairs comfortable enough to allow a free flow of creativity. I used to love writing outside. When we were at Quinnipiac College (now University, but it will always be QC to us!), there was the view of Sleeping Giant, which was beautiful when the leaves started changing colors. And hiking up to the overlook and writing there was peaceful.

SERENA: So that’s your most unusual writing place, on top of the Sleeping Giant overlook? No computer writing for you? In terms of writing with a notebook and pen, would that change if you had a laptop and not a desktop computer?

ANNA: I don’t know if it would change if I had a laptop. I think I’d be a lot more comfortable when I’m typing, but I really like the way the pen flows on the paper. I guess I’m weird like that.

How about you? Where do you write? What’s your most unusual writing place?

SERENA: Well, you do also like the smell the pages of your books, especially new ones. That is a bit weird.

Poems are generally written in a small notebook or journal that I carry everywhere–on the subway, the bus, in the car, walking–it’s always on my person. I only use those roller ball pens, usually black, but I don’t discriminate if I have a different color handy. I really like the electric blue pens, speaking of how ink flows onto a page. However, there are those occasions that I write poems on the laptop, which can be anywhere from on the desk/kitchen table to the couch, the comfy leather chair my husband saved from the trash man, or the porch. Short stories are written in a variety of college-ruled notebooks, again with those roller ball pens I love so much. They only get typed up when I am ready to say it is finished, and that’s when the story or novel undergoes its first editing process, as I am transcribing my written words from paper to electronic document.

The most unusual writing space for me is probably at the camera shop I used to work at. While developing and printing photos, I often had my notebook/journal out and I jotted down poems or short story ideas. Yes, I was writing away while wearing white photo developing gloves and a lab coat. I must have looked ridiculous.

ANNA: So I’m weird, and you’re ridiculous! We make quite a pair!

Those roller ball pens ROCK, and that’s what I was saying about the ink flowing on the page. I’m like you in that I’ll type after I’ve written and edited things in my notebook.

How about book reviews? You write them at the computer?

I tend to write those in my notebook first…I don’t like the pressure of the glaring white screen (or the uncomfortable computer chair, which you already know about so I’ll stop mentioning it).

SERENA: Book reviews are written on the computer at the computer desk/kitchen table. I don’t write those out beforehand, but then I generally write the book reviews while the book is fresh in my mind. I tend not to wait too long to review what I’ve been reading because I’m likely to forget the details.

And Now for the Contest! To enter to win a subscription to Writer’s Digest or a copy of Writing the Wave: Inspired Rides for Aspiring Writers by Elizabeth Ayres offered by Anna to another lucky winner!: Deadline Sept. 21 at Midnight EST

1. Answer one or all of these questions in the comments for one entry. If you comment here with the answers to these questions and on Diary of an Eccentric’s post, you get two entries, one for each comment.
2. Answer these questions in your own blog for 2 entries, and link back to this post and the one at Diary of an Eccentric; Please leave a link to your blog post.
3. Tell me about your ideal writing space on either my post or Anna’s post in the comments for an additional entry. No double entries for this one.

Another friendly reminder about these contests:

1. Diary of an Eccentric is holding a contest for The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold and The Choice by Nicholas Sparks Deadline is Sept. 30

2. Savvy Verse & Wit is holding a contest for Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg as the first contest for Book Blogger Appreciation Week Deadline is Sept. 19

3. Savvy Verse & Wit is holding another contest for “A Coney Island of the Mind” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti as part of BBAW; Deadline is Sept. 19

4. Bookish Ruth’s contest for The Sally Lockhart Mysteries by Phillip Pullman

5. Savvy Verse & Wit’s contest for a 1-year subscription to Poetry magazine. Deadline is Sept. 19

6. Savvy Verse & Wit’s contest for a copy of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel; Deadline is Sept. 19

Please also double-check the growing list of giveaways at My Friend Amy’s blog.

The Journey to Publication by Phyllis Zimbler Miller and Contest!



Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel took 38 years to come to fruition from the time I first experienced being a new Mrs. Lieutenant in the spring of 1970 during the Vietnam War until the book was published.

About 18 years after that experience I told the story to two female film producers who optioned the story for a movie. Then a few weeks later they told me I had to write a book first. I wrote a fictional account of my experiences to protect the innocent, but by the time I finished the first draft, they had moved onto other projects.

There followed 20 years of writing and rewriting, reading books on writing, taking classes on writing, taking part in writers’ groups, and getting rejected by agents and book editors. One rejection said that there was no longer racial prejudice in the United States, so my book was no longer relevant. Another rejection said that the four women had to meet through their own jobs such as at a law firm and not through their husbands.

During this time, I believed this story preserved a slice of women’s social history – what did the wives of men in the military think about the Vietnam War. All the fictional movies and books about the Vietnam War I knew were from the point of view of men, and I was determined to tell this story from the women’s point of view

When I showed the book to other people, they liked it, but everyone said something was missing, though they could not pinpoint the problem. I hired a consultant to evaluate the novel, and he discovered issues with the timeline in the book and offered some suggestions for improvement.

I used an actual calendar to clarify the timeline during another major rewrite of the novel and adapted the standard three-act screenplay structure. The novel now has three parts.

This past December I got an email forwarded to me from a friend. The email was actually from an acquaintance of my friend who said she was tired of waiting for people to say yes to her about her book and that she was going to self-publish. I had an epiphany.

I realized I couldn’t wait any longer for some book editor to say yes to me. So I immediately arranged with Amazon’s print-on-demand unit BookSurge to publish my book. I knew this meant doing all the marketing myself for Mrs. Lieutenant.

But in 1992, I was the co-author with Rabbi Karen L. Fox of the Jewish holiday book Seasons for Celebration (Karen and I just re-released the book on Amazon). Despite being published by a major house, we did all the marketing ourselves. Thus, I wasn’t worried about having to do all the marketing myself for Mrs. Lieutenant.

My experiences with Seasons for Celebration taught me several things. First, book signings are not a productive use of time unless you’re a well-known author. Secondly, trying to get Mrs. Lieutenant in bookstores also would not be productive because even when our publisher got Seasons for Celebration in Borders and other locations, the one or two copies of the book were “lost” on the shelves, surrounded by other books given much more shelf space.

So I turned to the internet with zeal, learning as much as I could about how to market online. Then I got lucky because BookSurge’s marketing consultant recommended Pump Up Your Book Promotion as a possible virtual book tour organizer. I immediately contacted Dorothy Thompson and arranged for a virtual book tour.

What’s a virtual book tour? Virtual book tours take place during a certain period of time (in my case a month) beginning and ending on specific dates. During that time, by pre-arrangement, your book is reviewed on a specific date of the virtual book tour or on that specific date the blogger features an interview of you (you’ve previously answered questions sent to you by the blogger).

You can arrange all the stops by yourself (and then announce the stops yourself on your own blog or on social media), but this can take a lot of time to research and then query bloggers. While I worked hard to provide all the interviews and other information that was needed by Dorothy Thompson, I never could have found on my own all the blogs and people with whom she connected me and through which she arranged my tour dates.

Have I sold lots of copies of my book so far? No. But all the book marketing gurus I’ve learned from say you have to give your book promotion a full year before you judge the results. Anything less is apparently too little. So I have several more months before I’ll know the results.

And eventually I might have time to go back to work on the sequel – Mrs. Lieutenant in Europe.

For those interested in supporting today’s American troops, please check out the latest post on the Mrs. Lieutenant blog.

***To win a signed copy of Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel, please answer the following question in the comments.*** Deadline is Sunday, Sept. 14 at Midnight EST

If you’re old enough to remember the Vietnam War as it was going on, what is your strongest memory of that war? If you’re too young to have a personal memory of the war, what is one thing that you learned about the war from someone you know, or in school, or from reading about the war or seeing a movie about the war?

If you blog about this contest or post this contest on Facebook, etc., and leave another comment with a link, I will gladly provide you with additional entries into this contest. Additionally, if you comment on my review you will get two more entries.