Friday, September 19, 2008

Writing and Writing Spaces, Part One--A Dialogue With Serena of SAVVY VERSE & WIT and a Giveaway!

As part of BBAW, my friend Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit (that's her on the right with my daughter...isn't that a cute picture?) wanted to discuss the writing process.

It doesn't matter whether us bloggers write only book reviews or pen fiction/non-fiction/poetry, etc., in our spare time--we're writers. Sometimes getting the creative juices flowing is a difficult task, and we all have our own ways of doing things.

Serena thought it would be neat for us to do a post together. Having been friends in real life for 13 years, we've traveled a big portion of the writing road together--we took many creative writing and English classes together in college, worked on a literary magazine together, launched our blogs right around the same time...heck, we even work at the same company and share an office. (Isn't it amazing we aren't sick of each other yet??)

Anyway, what follows is some bantering about our writing processes. Keep reading to find out about today's BBAW giveaway!

Serena: Hey Anna, 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.

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?

Well, you do also like to 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.

How about you, dear readers? How do you mentally prepare yourself to write? Do you have any writing routines? Do you prefer pen and paper, or would you rather sit in front of the computer? Have you written in odd places?

Answering at least one of these questions will enter you in our joint giveaway!

Serena is offering a lucky winner a one-year subscription to Writer's Digest!

And I'm offering a copy of Writing the Wave: Inspired Rides for Aspiring Writers by Elizabeth Ayres to another lucky winner!

The best part is that readers of both of our blogs will have a chance at both prizes!

Here are the rules:

1. Those of you who answer these questions in the comments in this post will receive one entry. (Same for those who comment only on Serena's post.) If you comment on my post AND Serena's post, you'll receive two entries.

2. If you blog your answers to these questions and link to this post, as well as Serena's post, you'll receive two entries. Don't forget to leave a link to you post in the comments here!

3. If you comment about your ideal writing space on either post, we'll give you another entry.

4. Make sure you include your email so we can contact you if you win!

International entries are accepted. The deadline is Midnight EST on Sept. 21!

And don't forget Serena's other BBAW giveaways because the deadline is tonight Sept. 19 at Midnight!

To win a copy of Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg, click here.
To win a copy of A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, click here.
To win a one-year subscription to Poetry magazine, click here.
To win a copy of Ariel by Sylvia Plath, click here.

I'm also giving away 5 copies of Alice Sebold's The Almost Moon and 5 copies of Nicholas Sparks' The Choice (thanks to Hachette Book Group USA). You can enter via this link.


Kristi Valiant said...

I'm a children's book illustrator by trade, but I've been trying my hand at writing picture books. Since I would also illustrate the book, I try to write and visually see the illustrations together in my head. I prefer to type on my computer with my sketchbook nearby. I've tried writing in coffee shops and other places, but I think my ideal writing space is truly my studio/office. I painted the walls cobalt blue and sunshine yellow, and I have art hanging up that I adore. It's my creative spot.

Thanks for hosting this giveaway!

Anna said...

Hi Kristi!

Thanks for entering! Cobalt blue and sunshine yellow sounds like a great combination. I love how yellow just brightens up a room, and if I ever manage to set aside a dedicated space in my home for writing, it would be yellow for sure!

Good luck with your picture books!!

Serena said...

This was a good article I think! Let's hope there are more interested parties out there who want to share their writing processes with us.

teabird said...

I prepare myself to write by writing - in my journal, or a letter to a friend - always by hand with a fountain pen. Then I write. The journal or letter-writing is like stretching and warming up before exercise!
My favorite place to write is the cafe at Barnes & Noble - the music is perfect and ambient, I love the cinnamon scones, the large tea lasts me for a couple of hours (or I get another one). Best of all: I'm anonymous. No one asks me questions beyond "shall I leave space for milk?" It's the only place/time when I'm free of being questioned, and it frees me to focus and write.
Ideally, I'd write in my little home office - but it's so cluttered, and my husband asks me questions, and I get distracted by the chipmunks on the deck...

I loved your interview!

teabird 17 at yahoo dot com

Anna said...

Hi Teabird!

I like your idea of a warm-up journal or letter! I might try that one!

Thanks for entering, and we're glad you enjoyed the interview!

Jeannie said...

I linked both yours and Serena's blogs to my blog post and answered your questions there:

My ideal writing space would contain a overstuffed chair, a cool breeze from an open window, and Chopin's Waltz for Piano in A Flat Major playing in the background.

What a fantastic way to encourage people to write. Thanks to you both!

themiyamas at hotmail dot com

Tricia said...

I left you an award. :)


My ideal writing space is usually the bedroom with the sun coming up.


How about you, dear readers? How do you mentally prepare yourself to write?
I don't, its usually when I am the most unprepared that ideas and thoughts roll. I usually get alot of ideas in the most unusual places like when my head is underwater in the tub, strange I know but thats how it is.

Do you have any writing routines? No, but do carry a pen and paper everywhere and have notepads everywhere for thoughts and ideas.
Do you prefer pen and paper, or would you rather sit in front of the computer? Pen and paper
Have you written in odd places? Sitting up in the bathtub, after surgery in the recovery yes strange places.

Anna said...

Hi Sandy! Thanks for entering! Isn't it neat when ideas strike us at odd times? My problem is I never have a paper or pen on me when they do! I'm glad I'm not the only one who prefers pen and paper. I've never tried writing in the bathtub...I'm so clumsy, I know I'd drop my notebook in!!

Thanks for sharing!

Anna said...

Jeannie, thanks so much for taking the time to blog about our posts and giveaway. I really appreciate it! You're wonderful! And your ideal writing space sounds heavenly!

Book Sp(l)ot said...

I like writing on a computer much more because with pen and paper I never can seem to go fast enough and then I forget things-I like to get it all out with the computer and then go back and tune it up :)


RebekahC said...

Wonderful interview, Serena. :)

I definitely prefer pen and paper for some things, but there are others where it's nice and convenient to use the computer.


Stonefox said...

Thanks for the giveaway! I've already commented on Serena's blog.

I definitely prefer using the computer rather than the pen and paper-less messy. My ideal spot is anywhere quiet and de-cluttered. I can't think well with noise or distractions!

Alyce said...

I don't know that my moods affect my writing so much as my writing affects my moods. I have found that when I do creative writing, and write about a villain I will get upset. I get so into the characters that it's like they are real to me. I actually got into an argument once with my husband because I was so cranky after writing about a character who was a misogynistic jerk.

akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

Anonymous said...

Anna, I really enjoyed the interview, reading about how you and Serena write.

The banter between you two is great. I really admire long-lasting female friendships.

In a world where people move around so much, it can be difficult to maintain those. Kudos to you and Serena!

Anonymous said...

It's funny... when I write a novel I do it on my ancient laptop that needs to be plugged in or the battery will get completely drained when I boot up. :) So when I write novels I have to fiddle around with the internet for 30 minutes and re-read the last few paragraphs before I can jump in. Short stories can be written longhand in a yellow notepad or on the ancient laptop. Book Reviews for publication are usually written on the ancient laptop. Book Reviews for my blog are usually written on my office computer before I post them.

Ideally, I'd be able to write in the morning before everyone has woken up or in the afternoon at home where I can hear the birds sing. These days I have a dog that is an early riser so as soon as an eyelid comes open he's staring at me, ready to start his day. And if I were at home in the afternoon I'd probably be unemployed since I work a 40 hour job full time. hehe

amber at

Suey said...

I'm finding that I like the computer writing better than the notebook writing. Though sometimes, the notebook writing is great too.

I need music or noise. If it's music, it's better if it's instrumental, or else I end up singing along, which means my brain forgets about writing.

Also, my biggest problem is I can't seem to write if there's people around me... or the possibility of someone hanging over my shoulder. At my house, this is ALWAYS a possibility.

The other problem is I need a nice big stretch of time ahead of me... I have a hard time sitting down to write something if I only have a few minutes to spare. That's why the writing thing is always pushed to the back burner.

Anonymous said...

I posted about your Q&A HERE.

No need to enter me in the contest. My TBR pile is so out of control. I just loved the questions and wanted to participate!

Lady Blogger said...

I don't really consider myself a writer although I do write and I teach writing to 3rd graders. To get in a writing mood, I immerse myself in thought on the topic I want to write about. Sometimes the words just come and, other times, they don't. Like I tell my students though, there is always something to write about no matter how mundane it may seem.

Lately, my writing space is my computer when I'm home and my overhead or chart paper when I'm at school.

(You don't need to enter me in your contest -- I just wanted to share!) :)

Anna said...

Thanks everyone for sharing a bit about your writing processes. I've really enjoyed reading all your comments! And for those of you stopping by my blog for the first time, thanks so much, and I hope you'll come back some time!

Anonymous said...

Anna and Serena - I enjoyed reading this interview/conversation ... we all have different routines!

I can write with background noise, lots of it, but I hate to be interrupted directly, it totally throws me off!

Anna said...

Hi Dawn! Thanks for stopping by! It's been great reading about everyone's different routines. I hear you about the interruptions...they drive me mad!

Anonymous said...

Has your contest ended yet?
If not, I prefer pen and paper so you can see your progress on your book.

+Evan S.

Anna said...

Hi Evan! Thanks so much for stopping by and joining the discussion. Unfortunately, the contest has ended, but I appreciate you sharing!

I, too, love pen and paper. I collect notebooks because I go through so many!