my new home

January 30, 2012 § 2 Comments

I realized I never posted a photo of my new writing desk. I’ve been spending a lot of time here and our cat has a new favorite spot.

Finding a Place to Write

January 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s interesting to see where writers write from. Faulkner had a simple setup on a small desk with his typewriter, tobacco and a window to gaze out of. It’s hard to believe such a tiny desk was responsible for so many great works. I guess it comes down to finding a place where the writer feels physically at ease while their mind travels great lengths.
Tolstoy had a similar size desk but had quite a bit of clutter in his study. I would have a hard time concentrating in here. It feels a bit claustrophobic. Maybe he felt he was surrounded by everything he loved all packed into one little room.
Jane Austen had the most Spartan setup of the bunch. I imagine you’d want to have a good idea of what you wanted to write before you sat down in that chair; I wouldn’t call her setup comfortable. Maybe for her, being from such a large family, it was just a luxury to have her very own spot to write.

I’m not setting out to write a book in the same league as these writers, but I’d still love a place to write. So far I’ve just written from wherever I happen to be whether it’s the couch, the kitchen table, a local cafe or sometimes like Marcel Proust, in bed. I’ve never had a proper writing desk before, so this week I’ve been on a quest to find one. I would say the desk found me. The first desk I sort of liked was a no-go because the store owner flatly, rudely and definitively refused to sell it (even though it had a price tag on it).

It turned out to be divine intervention because the next place I went to I found my desk. I hadn’t planned to go there but my husband wanted to look at a Hans Wegner chair so we made the trip. It may sound strange to have such a strong reaction to a desk, but it sucked me in like a vortex the second I laid eyes on it. It was more perfect than I could have imagined. It’s a beautiful mid-century modern Danish desk made from rosewood with a bookshelf built into the front of the desk. We bought it from our new favorite store in Denver called Zeitgeist, home to a gorgeous array of modern furniture and art.
Not only did we find the perfect desk, but I totally dig that the desk has been Randy’s own desk for the last 10 years. Randy is just a cool guy. You’ll get no disinterested Design Within Reach demeanor from him. He loves Modernism and wants any and everybody to have the chance to love it too.

I knew I wanted a desk that had a little history to it. Randy built his business from that desk, a business he’s been lovingly been in for 38 years. He was willing to part with it because he  recently acquired a desk he’s been trying to get his hands on for 20 years.

Before Randy, the desk was owned by a Danish architect who lived in Boulder. Apparently he had come to work in Boulder and fell in love with a woman who lived there, eventually moving there for good.

Now the desk is making its way back to Boulder. I hope to continue to be an interesting part of its history. One thing is for sure. It’s a place that inspires me to sit and write from.

 

Finding the Right Critic

December 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

If only it were as easy to find a great editor as it was in the latest Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson (a West Coast Woody Allen) is a Hollywood screenwriter taking on his first real novel. A hopeless romantic he wanders the streets of Paris and reminisces about what it might have been like to live in Paris in the 20s. (mini spoiler) As he walks the streets at midnight he finds himself magically transported back to the 20s and in the company of the greatest writers, artists and thinkers of that time. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) even agrees to read and critique his novel. If only it were that easy.

Even though I’ve never written a book, I know from the work I have done that editing can be what makes something great. Luckily my skin has thickened nicely over the years and I look at critique (or I should say good critique) as a positive thing now. When I was greener I always took it to mean I hadn’t thought through my work enough. Now I realize that critique can help unlock the greatness in your own thinking in a way you can never do on your own.

The hard part is finding someone you not only trust with your soul but that you trust to be honest. The last thing I want is too many cooks in the kitchen. I want to create a relationship with someone who can bring my work to the place it needs to be. This involves an inordinate amount of both trust and honesty. What better person to turn to than my husband?

John is not a traditional editor in any sense but he’s one of the most well-read people I know. The good thing is that I know he will hold me dead to rights in my own writing and help me get to where I need to be. As with any good married couple we can sometimes be overly critical of each other which I’ll have to watch.

Maybe we should edit over wine.

A Writer’s Journal

December 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

When I’m reading a novel I often wonder what the author was thinking as he or she was writing it. I wonder what life might have been like at the time. As I was looking for resources from writers about their writing I came across two unique journals that John Steinbeck kept when he was writing his greatest works. Working Days was his first journal he kept each day while writing the Grapes of Wrath. Journal of a Novel represents the combination of a journal and the manuscript for East of Eden (he wrote both in the same book).

He used each journal as a warm-up and many of his entries had to do with setting the pace of his writing and slowing down his mind. It was a method he used to shake off his jitters before jumping into the prose.

“I shouldn’t be thinking about getting it done. Should be thinking only of the story and I can’t let future interfere with the hardest, most complete work of my life. I must get the tempo.” – Working Days

Even if you’re not a Steinbeck fan (which I am), these give you a window into the discipline of a great writer. Each day of the week and often some weekend days he would begin at roughly the same time each day (around 11) and put in solid hours of writing, even when he didn’t feel like it. For The Grapes of Wrath he gave himself 5 months to write, averaging 2,000 words a day. For East of Eden he wanted to give himself a full year and averaged around 1,000 words a day.

He used the diaries as a means to focus. Each day he would start the act of writing by giving a short account of what was happening in life and then re-center his focus on the story and his task at hand that day.

He did not like distractions, even the buzzing of an infiltrating fly. He talked a lot of keeping the world out and the books being the one thing he was responsible for. He and his first wife (there were 3) had constant visitors (Charlie Chaplin was a fairly regular visitor). He seemed to get most disturbed by the sound of the washing machine.

More than anything, the journals were a daily pep talk that even if he didn’t believe he was good enough to write, there was a story to tell and he would do his best to live up to it. He often closed his journal entries after his writing wondering whether what he just wrote was good enough or not. He even referred to the Grapes of Wrath as “just another book”.

“All I know is that little by little it will mount and grow slowly until finally it is a house and then it will either be a good house and will stand or a bad house and then it will fall of its own weight. This is always true both of books and houses.” – Journal of a Novel

I plan on adopting the journal idea as I take a stab at writing my own book.

Writing a Story

December 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s the last week of a tremendous year. It may seem like I’ve already crossed writing off the list through my blog this year, but for my last week I want to explore writing a book. I have 3 sisters and as a kid my grandmother always wanted one of us to become a nurse and one of us to become a writer.  I’m no good with blood, so that leaves writing.

I don’t know that I could ever go so far as to call myself a writer but I like the idea of writing a book. Writing has always been one of those things lingering in the back of my mind that I’ve sedated over the years through lots of reading. I believe writing isn’t necessarily something you set out to do but can be something you accidentally bump into at some point in life. It then sticks to you like tar and you can’t shake it off.

Imagining that you not only have something to say but that you can also sit down and write it all out coherently is daunting to say the least. After this year and what I’ve experienced, I have something to say which is a start. Writing the blog has also been a good warm-up to creating a discipline of writing. I know I can make myself sit and write even in those moments I don’t feel like it. The hurdle will be releasing the story that wants to be told.

I think a good place to start the exploration this week is to look at what many of the great writers have said about writing. Maybe one of them will have words I can use to help guide me along the way.

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.  ~Franz Kafka
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. – Ernest Hemingway

Not surprising encapsulations from these two. My writing will not be venturing into the same territory as theirs, so I think it’s ok for me to have a little less intense of an ambition than that. I need to find a less bloody analogy to pouring myself into my writing.

Every writer I know has trouble writing.  ~Joseph Heller
Easy reading is damn hard writing.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.  ~James Michener
The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business. ~John Steinbeck

It’s always reassuring to know that even great writers struggle with writing. It will be good to keep in mind when I hit a wall of frustration. If I don’t hit a wall of frustration then I need to push harder until I do. I like the sentiment of being better at re-writing than writing which I will adopt. It removes some of the anxiety of staring down a blank page.

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.  ~Lord Byron
And eventually as I kept writing it, something emerged that was not quite me but a version of me. ~Larry David
Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer’s own life. ~Eudora Welty
Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought? ~Joan Didion

These thoughts better represent why I’d like to write a book. How often in your life do you get to reflect in such a systematic way on what you’ve experienced? The closest thing I’ve probably had over the years is a performance review at my job which doesn’t even compare. This last year has been life changing in so many ways. In the process of writing a book I’d like to untangle the ways and understand them completely.

 

 

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