Writers on Writing, Routines, Habit

I love reading biographies about writers and interviews with writers. I love peering into their work space and coming to a greater understanding of how they operate. The current issue of The Writer’s Chronicle has an interview with one of my favorite contemporary poets, Kim Addonizzio. The interview, which is only available in print, covers a wide range of topics, and while it does not delve too much into Addonizzio’s specific writing process, it does provide some glimpses into it. For instance, she mentions listening to classical and jazz while composing new work, and maybe this shouldn’t come as surprise, since Addonizzio also plays music and frequently busts out her harmonica to play the blues after she reads a few poems or her fiction.

What’s more interesting about the interview, however, is what Addonizzio has to say about writing in different genres. She admits that some writers are purists and stick to only one genre, but she writes poetry, fiction, and essays. She is quick to note how writing poetry can help with other genres because it teaches a writer to develop precision of language and metaphorical thinking. This is why, when I used to teach creative writing, we always started with poetry, before delving into any other genre of writing. Poetry, as Addonizzio states, helps students focus on the importance of correct word choice and the weight of a single line, and though prose may be longer, those same rules should still apply. It may be typical, too, for us to start out in one genre, but there is no harm in expanding to other genres. She mentions starting out with poetry and then writing fiction when she was in her early 30s. Since then, she has published two novels and two short story collections.

It’s worth picking up the latest issue and reading the interview. It’s another window into a writer’s habits and work routine. For the teachers out there, there is good advice too, namely the importance of writing as both a teacher and a writer and always questioning the techniques a writer used and how that can be covered in the classroom, or turned into a writing prompt.


A Call for a Change in Habit and Routine

If you do a Google search about the writing process, you will find numerous articles that preach the importance of routine, habit, and discipline. Those are certainly important characteristics, and in any writing course that I teach, I begin by addressing the writing process. Specifically, I tell students that everyone’s process is different, but you have to find a routine that works for you. You have to show up and do the work, not expect inspiration to merely find you. It never works that way. Sometimes, I share this link/article with them about the routines of famous writers, everyone from Ray Bradybury to Susan Sontag.

I’ve had the same writing routine since college. More specifically, I write in the morning, often starting with journaling or a recording of dreams, and then moving to a draft of a previous poem or new poem. I either sit at my writing desk, in the bedroom, or at the dining table. I’ve had an affinity for writing at dining tables since college, when I had no other place to write because I shared a cramped apartment with three of my friends. In college, I developed the routine of writing in the morning, before my late morning/early afternoon classes. I hustled to finish drafts of poems or short stories before my afternoon and evening workshops. Beyond location, I have other specific aspects of my routine. I journal and write all drafts of poems by hand. There is something to be said about breath, rhythm, and writing by hand. Revisions are later done in Word, printed out, and then written over in pen, before revised in Word again. This is what works for me.

Lately, however, I’ve needed to clear my mind and sweep away some dead energy. I felt confined to a space. While routines and specific habits are important, so the writer gets in the habit of sitting down in a chair and showing up for the muse, there is also something to be said about breaking out of habit. For four days, I ventured to Cape May and used the time not only to see the town again, but also to write. In that span of time, I wrote seven new poems. n addition, I plowed through some books that have been stacked on my shelves for weeks, even months.There is something to be said about a simple change of scenery, and it doesn’t have to be a mini vacation. It can simply mean visiting a new cafe or walking through different parts of your neighborhood.

If you are stuck, try breaking the routine, at least for a day or two. Take the journal and laptop and go to a new cafe or park. Take a long walk through unexplored territory. It will help, trust me.

Writing Process/Writing Life

Yesterday, the weather was mild and warm, and for the first time in at least days, the sun was actually out for extended periods. I made the most of the pleasant weather and took my reading materials and a notebook to a local park to sit outside and write. Without any way to use my laptop, I actually got a lot of writing done and I felt more focused than I had in a while, probably just from being outside.

This whole experience caused me to seriously consider how I structure my time to write. Most of the time, I write in the morning, at my kitchen table, for at least 30 minutes. And then I try to pour in another 30 minutes or longer after work, again, at my kitchen table. But a lot of times, in the comfort of my own apartment, I feel like I’m rushing the work because I’m thinking about emails I have to respond to on my laptop only a few feet away.

But yesterday, I didn’t have any of those distractions. It made me realize that when I leave the house in hopes of writing, I should leave the laptop home or not connect to the web. I find that too often when I go to Borders, Starbucks, or a local cafe, I spend far more time mindlessly surfing the web as opposed to getting much work done.

I’m even considering going to the park more and more, like I did last summer, to get serious writing done. No internet connection there. I’m curious as to what the writing process/space is like for other people. I suppose it varies from person to person.