Writing Interrupted

Quick, answer without thinking: What is your favorite time of day to write?

Me, 6:30am. I hate mornings but this is my only alone time all day. My children are still asleep.

How often do you write? Just when the muse strikes? Or on a schedule? Every day, once a week?

I was an inspiration kind of writer until I enrolled in grad school and then had to write on deadline. I panicked. What if the muse were on vacation? I realized that the more often you sit down to write, the higher the chances that you’d run into the muse. Funny meeting you here, muse.

How long do you write? In long or short writing sessions?

Photo courtesy of Peter Kaminski (flickr.com).

It has taken me forty-five minutes to write everything you’ve read up to now – 156 words. I’ve been interrupted three times. (Uh huh, the children woke up.) Sigh…I like to write in all-day sessions. But that just isn’t my life right now. So I have to write between the interruptions.

As a young writer, I read interviews with experienced writers in which they talked about writing on the subway, at the coffee house, over lunch. (Case in point: Frank O’Hara’s “Song,” which begins, “I am stuck in traffic in a taxicab”). Some writers can make it seem romantic; they’re so overflowing with brilliant words that, no matter where they are, they have to write them down NOW, preferably in a stylish leather-bound notebook.

Yeah, right. I write on the run because I write when I have time, not when I have inspiration. Sometimes it’s literally on the run. I do my best writing in my head while I’m jogging. My body’s movement puts rhythm into my words and I come home to write freely, uncensored, because I’m rushing to put everything from my running head onto paper before I forget it.

Let’s talk about interruptions

When I have this conversation, the “Where, When and How do you write” conversation, with my college students, I learn that 90% of them like to write with music or TV in the background. They admit that they find it almost impossible not to answer the phone or read the incoming text message, even if they’re in the middle of writing a sentence. The world is full of naysayers about this digital generation, that young people can’t concentrate and that they won’t be able to think creatively. In certain ways, I agree. I worry about how many outside voices stream into my students’ ears, potentially deafening their own narrative voices.

On the other hand, the digital generation certainly knows how to multitask. It’s the cliché, but I think it’s a good thing. Upcoming writers may not need a quiet writing garret, a room with a view, to write. They don’t even need a room. They are pros at writing on the go, with a laptop or even a text message. Check out these teenagers who are using their cell phones to edit their poems.

If you are one of these people, cool. You are a flexible writer and you might become prolific. Just be aware of how powerful an influence music and even texting can be on your rhythm, mood and word choices. If all your poems start to sound like Kanye West lyrics, switch up your iPod playlist.

Living the interrupted life

What if you feel that you never have time to write for yourself? There is always something else you have to write—college applications, a research paper, to-do lists of your to-do lists. What if you simply don’t like being interrupted?

Don’t let interruptions get you down. A busy day is a good excuse to write something short and urgent. Follow Frank O’Hara’s example of “Lunch Poems”: Try writing a poem on your lunch break.

Don’t be afraid to write something you’ll just throw away. Your scraps written on the run might become the basis for something fantastic someday, but if not, that’s really okay. For some great insight on writing for fun, check out Shannon’s blog.

Don’t be afraid to write etudes, small trial runs for bigger pieces later. Great works are rarely made in a day. For every “Thinker,” how many studies of hands do you think Rodin carved?

When to interrupt the interruptions

When you think you’re done with your piece, turn all your electronics off. Go do something completely different for a few hours. Better yet, a few days. Then come back and read it again, in silence. Disable your cell phone, email, text messages, Facebook, and Twitter for one hour. You won’t go through withdrawal.  Shut the door so that you feel free to read your words aloud. You don’t want an audience yet and you don’t want anyone else’s voice in your head.

One last interruption

It is 2:30pm, my least favorite time to write because I’m rushing to finish this piece before my eldest son gets out of school. You have read 828 words in about 3 minutes. Those words took me eight hours to write. My interruptions today included a game of Monopoly Jr., a few diaper changes, two round-trips to school; I kept editing sentences in my head the whole time.  I sat in front of the computer for fewer than four of the last eight hours but, as far as I’m concerned, I wrote all day.

Colleen Oakley, Poetry EditorColleen is YARN’s poetry editor.

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