How I Write. 7QT XX Seriatim.

How I Write. 7QT XX Seriatim. March 20, 2015

How i write


I got the idea for this post from Thomas L. McDonald, who wrote a QA with himself about his work habits. I like to hear how other writers go about it, and thought I would write my own such. You often bump up against the strangely familiar in that way. Indeed I can remember watching a documentary that takes you the viewer into a bit of John Irving’s writing process, and thinking: You too, John? I thought I was the only one.


Location. Way back up in the woods among the evergreens.

Current Gig. Blogger, freelancer, starving artist, collector of pennies.

One word that best describes how you work. Fitfully. Or maybe fretfully. Most days I can’t decide.

Current mobile device. iPad Air.

Current computer. Decrepit, clunky Vista which does not run Internet right now; I use my iPad for all.

What apps / software / tools can’t you live without? Why? Twishort, because I can’t keep myself to 140 characters: 140 characters are like a one-square-foot cell.

Also my Precise Rolling Ball Ink pen (fine), because I write everything with it, everything, including my blog posts, my notes in the margins of books, my grocery lists, and my checks to the bloodsucking maggots lovely Visa people. Any other type of pen plays havoc with my persnickety, Asperger tendencies—which may be more than tendencies.

What’s your workplace setup like?

Very spare and spartan, as you can see from the pic above. If I have any kind of technology around me at all when I write, I will be distracted and never get anything done. How can I write when there’s someone saying something dumb on Facebook? So I shut it down and shut it off and write on paper.

Annie Dillard once said that she needs “a room with no view, so that imagination can meet memory in the dark.” I have modeled my own workspace around that principle. It’s why my desk faces a wall rather than a window. (The window is behind me, and the blinds drawn.) I require nothing but paper, pens, and words. And, of course, endless cups of Mystic Monk coffee.

What is your best timesaving shortcut?

I can’t think of any better one than what I wrote above: My computer is off when I write. If I need to make notes from something online, I do it ahead of time. That way, when I sit down to write, I am not distracted. I can scratch about for words alone.

Also, I leave myself plenty of space in the margin so that I can insert added notes or ideas or corrections to my rough draft. That saves time later hunting about for the paragraph I wanted to insert here, which I wrote on a different sheet of paper, because there was no room left on this one.

(Although, my challenge is less finding stuff to add than it is finding stuff to cut.)

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

Well, my phone and computer are the only “gadgets” I have, unless you count the car, the microwave, and the toaster. I literally have not turned on my television in 30 months, and I am better off without it. (And I am better off, too, with all that money back in my budget every month. You know, so I can buy more books.)

I suppose that being without a TV is one more timesaving shortcut. I write more and—even better—I read more and I pray more.

What do you listen to while you work?

A fan best suits my autism, as do those useful YouTube videos which are 8 hours of nothing but an airplane engine, or a train, or a vacuum cleaner. I am still waiting for someone to make an 8 hour video of a lawn mower.

What are you currently reading?

For a Lenten devotional, I am reading No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton. During Lent, I also always reread the Gospel of John.

As a kind of Lenten penance, I am rereading some Thomas Hardy that I haven’t read in 25 years. I was interested to find out whether I would like his novels any better now that I’m in my forties. I don’t. His books are still crap. Especially Jude the Obscure.

What has changed over the years since you started and what do you do differently?

When I was in graduate school (this was in the 1990s), I wrote everything longhand, keyed my rough drafts into an Apple IIGS using Appleworks Word Processing (I know; I’m 45), and revised, by hand, on the hard copy. Then I would repeat over a series of maybe 8-10 more drafts.

Then, along about 2001, with the sudden ability to do a great amount of research directly from the Internet, I began to write entirely on the computer, in Microsoft Word. That was not a good idea: Inevitably, my computer crashed, and I lost all my work, and my stomach got slain, one too many times.

And so I returned to writing everything longhand, except that—to save paper—I now write all my corrections in the margin or by the scratch-out method you see here. And it’s not uncommon for me to write two or three times as many drafts as I used to.

I find that I am in more direct connection with the words that way, and I feel more like I am lost in a text and writing—as opposed to typing, or gadgeting, or fiddling around on Facebook.

Twenty years later, not much has changed except my handwriting is sloppier and getting worse; but I can read it, which is the important thing.

Read more of this week’s quick takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum.


Browse Our Archives

Close Ad