The Writing Life

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I’d love to be able to tell you that writing Emmett’s story is something that feels natural, easy, and fun 100 percent of the time. I wish that were the case. But the reality is that writing is a lot of work. Creating something that hasn’t existed before out of a lot of (seemingly) disconnected, often hard-to-find informational artifacts takes time and creative energy, something I don’t always have, and I can’t always find it in my morning coffee.

I didn’t get much “writing” done over the past several days because the other part of writing this book (the administrative part) needed tending. Here’s a few of the things I had to do:

  • Type up all of the notes I took from Thanksgiving through the first week of January. Typing notes keeps things organized, readable. I’m old school in that I keep a notebook with me at all times. If I get an idea, I jot it down. Much easier that texting into a cell phone, and I surely don’t have to worry about autocorrect, as I’m an uncoordinated phone typist. I do this regularly; it keeps me focused in my data search, and where I’m going with the different chapters.
  • Track down and identify four new contacts. Sent queries. One of the contacts owns an extensive collection of Florida political memorabilia.
    Not this Wilson. The other Wilson. Image source: www.oldpoliticals.com

    Not this Wilson. The other Wilson. Image source: http://www.oldpoliticals.com

    Could it be that the person who owns the memorabilia has an Emmett Wilson Club button? I hope! Or, perhaps a Kehoe or Smithwick one? One thing is for sure: It takes time to craft a well written inquiry. I don’t repurpose a lot of my query letters. Also, if I am asking family members to contact me, it is personal. I want them to understand that I respect whatever decision they make (to contact me or not), and I would treat their information with professionalism. Good (and effective) queries take time, effort, and care.

  • Review my old ‘sent’ mail for previous contacts and colleagues who have not replied to earlier questions. Sent follow-ups. There were several smaller libraries and community historical organizations that have not gotten back to me. The smaller community organizations often are run by volunteers, so it is likely that the queries fell between the cracks. This happens a lot.
  • Juggle a technical problem with an InterLibrary Loan request. At the U of Maryland, I have to fill out an electronic form for each item I borrow from another institution’s reserves. Last week, I got an autoreply that said: “Exhausted all sources, item unavailable.” It was returned less than 12 hours after I submitted it — way too soon for the search to have been completed. My usual routine is to check out for myself if the source actually does exist via Worldcat.org, confirm it, then, make the official request. I did all of that, and still got the “exhausted all sources” message. Long story short: The lending institution’s product number was off by one digit in their listing; ergo, a typo cost us two days.
  • Test a project organizing application. I’m looking at a software product called “Mindmeister.”  Other writers use it instead of a gigantic erasable whiteboard as a way to map their chapters, character relationships, and so forth. This is a lot less messy (as my scribblings get indecipherable, and I get erasable whiteboard ‘ink’ all over my clothes when I work), and it looks like it might work in terms of organizing my chapters/character relationships/behind-the-scenes issues.
This is how the writer Jeannie Ruesch used it in one project. I can see how it would apply in my own organization of inf. Source: http://jeannieruesch.com/2013/03/how-writers-can-use-mindmeister/

This is how the writer Jeannie Ruesch used it in one project. I can see how it would apply in my info organization. Source: http://jeannieruesch.com/2013/03/how-writers-can-use-mindmeister/

I’m not sure if I will use this one yet, although I see the benefits. The thing is, I feel like I have to stop and learn how to use a new tool in the middle of all that I’m doing/learning/staying atop when it comes to technology anyway, and I’m thinking, it is just one more app to deal with — sigh. Sorry for the geezer rant. Honestly, this app has a lot of potential; I have a ton of details to organize, and I do better with a graphic or map of where I’m going with Emmett’s story. I’ll test it and let you know how it works.

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It can be hard to disengage mentally from everything else when the “writing moment” for Emmett’s book arrives and focus exclusively on that creative task. I have to inform my colleagues and family when I need an hour in my office without distractions, to write. They know what I’m doing; they get it. It still feels funny to me to say I’m doing this and why I need the alone-time; it is as if I’m letting them into my unedited, rough-draft creative moment, and it is private to me. I don’t want people seeing or knowing I’m struggling with thoughts behind a closed door as they become words on paper– because the struggle is huge for me at times, frankly. There are days when all I’ve been able to do is weep with frustration behind the closed door, because the words just weren’t coming, or they felt contrived.

The thing is, the ‘struggle’ never lasts very long. Once it is over, I’m able to step back mentally and begin again — and the new approach often is better, because I’ve worked through that creative difficulty. When I feel the frustration coming over me, I’ve learned to set whatever the knotty writing problem is aside for a day or two (or a week) and work on something else. For me, distance and time are the universal solvents for writing problems.

What seems to work best for me, though, is to write every day, for no more than an hour at a time. It is like physical exercise; you will see improvements, but the secret is to keep at it, and reasonably. It doesn’t have to be a big deal; there are many ways to ‘write every day’: Outline an article; enter research data into a timeline; proofread and edit copy; write a rough draft; write correspondence that relates to your project; draft two or three pages of text. Write a blog entry. 🙂

Writing, like cardiovascular exercise, takes a lot of energy. When I work out or run, I find that I cannot go more than an hour without doing injury to myself. Likewise with writing. Because writing requires a lot mental energy, if I go for a long time without a break, I’ll burn out. I’d hate to burn out before I finished Emmett’s book.

For what it is worth.

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2 thoughts on “The Writing Life

  1. Hi ! Thanks for the link and I think you’ll find that Mindmeister can be an amazing tool, but I totally understand not wanting to learn a new tech. I have that “shiny new object syndrome” when it comes to technology, so I’m more than content to drop everything and spend hours learning it. LOL Did I mention I know how to procrastinate like the best of them? 🙂

    Would love to hear your thoughts if you end up checking it out.

  2. Hey Jeannie: I appreciate your blog and thoughts about using this tool. Today I was in a writer’s workshop on story architecture, and it fired me up to play with the tool — so I will do it. It dovetails nicely with the Mindmeister product, as I have been wresting with how to structure Emmett’s bio for quite awhile.

    I hate to admit it, but I’ve been used to just jumping into a writing project, and moving from that point, without any real “architecture” underneath for a long time. It has worked for me in the past. But it isn’t working for me this time around with Emmett’s story — so embracing the new is uncomfortable, but necessary. I also recognize it as a sign of growth, though. Discomfort = growing pains, you know. 🙂

    I will let you know what I think about Mindmeister after I play with it. I’m looking forward to it!

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