When Do You Write? ANYA SILVER

I’ll admit, I’m on a bit of a female poet kick lately. First Julie Catherine, then Dilruba, and now Anya, a friend of a friend who I hope to meet in person very soon.

With Anya’s stunning book, The Ninety-Third Name of God: Poems, I’ve decided why poetry is published as chapbooks– shorter books usually no more than 40 pages long. It’s because no more pages are needed when every poem is its own stunning revelation about life and humanity.

This is even more true in Ninety-Third, in particular Part II, where Anya explores the grief and injustice of losing loved ones to cancer, as well as her own diagnosis, surgery, remission, and then recurrence.

While I savored every poem in this collection, I read one in particular over and over again. It’s entitled, “Letter to Myself, in Remission, from Myself, Terminal.” Here’s a short passage:

Instead of the truth, you took refuge in stories and souls, wore the word survivor like a pink nimbus.

All the while, my dear, I waited, knowing

You’d catch up to me one day. I’m holding the black-

backed mirror to your face. Look into it.

I suppose there will never be any adequate words to describe cancer. But there is poetry– lyrical and hopeful, devastating, yet determined. And there is Anya, putting pen to paper and enchanting us with magical phrases that tell a thousand stories of a thousand souls.

When Does She Write?

As a university professor and poet, I’m both lucky and unlucky.  On the one hand, I can arrange to teach only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, thereby theoretically leaving myself large chunks of time in which to write on the other days of the week.  On the other hand, I never “clock out” of work.  I’m forever reading something for class, grading an essay, or writing a letter of recommendation.  I regularly work until 10:00 at night, and then realize that I’m far too tired to write a poem.  However, for those who want to write, teaching is an ideal profession, because it leaves one the summers free, and it allows one (at the college level) to work one’s teaching schedule in a way that allows writing time.

I write very ritualistically.  I only write first drafts of poems in my home office, sitting in my rocking chair, in a notebook set aside for the purpose, with a black pen.  I can only write when there is no one else around and the room is silent.  I never write when travelling, or when my child is at home and unoccupied, because the distractions are too great.  I force myself to write a poem a week, no matter how bad.  When it comes to revision, though—and revision is ¾ of the writing process for me—I’m able to work in little chunks.  While my son is in the bath, or while my husband is making dinner, I take advantage of fifteen minute openings to pop into a poem and fiddle with line breaks, internal rhyme, an image here or there.  In general, my best writing times are 10:00 am- 1:00 pm, the least practical hours of the day.  Revision, though, I find that I can do at night, in rooms other than my office, and while travelling.

I’m very fortunate to have the luxury of time and flexibility.  I tell students that if they’re really committed to writing, if writing is truly their vocation and they can’t live without it, then they need to arrange their lives in a way that makes writing possible.   You can be a professor, work at Starbucks, sell car insurance at Geico, be a landscaper, or be a medical doctor—but writing must remain at the center of your life, however you make that possible.

BIO: Anya Silver is the author of a book of poetry, The Ninety-Third Name of God, published by the Louisiana State University Press in 2010.  Her next book, I Watched Her Disappear, is forthcoming from LSU.  She has published poetry in many literary journals, including Image, Crazyhorse, Five Points, Prairie Schooner, Witness, The Southern Poetry Review, and others.  Her work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac,” Poetry Daily, and in Ted syndicated column, American Life in Poetry.  She teaches English at Mercer University and lives with her husband and son in downtown Macon, GA.

When Do You Write? EMILY ROSENBAUM

I’ve been reading Emily’s blog for about three years now. Her posts are nuanced, sensitive, and engaging, and cover everything from writing to re-locating (she and her family move often), to cooking healthy foods (from scratch), and to raising her three children.

It may be surprising to learn, then, that a woman so devoted to her children, so successful in a career, so talented a writer — suffered terrible physical, verbal and emotional abuse as a child.

I’m in the middle of reading her memoir Behind the Woodpile on my Kindle, which you can download FOR FREE, today only. It is a harrowing tale of the death of Emily’s mother when Emily was still a toddler, and the abuse and neglect she endured from her step-mother.

But Woodpile is so much more than an abuse memoir. Because woven between her stories of fear and neglect, are the heartfelt tales of the love, frustration, and laughter that comes from being a mother to small children. By reading the narratives side-by-side, Emily shows us that hope can come of hurt, and that happiness can follow pain.

I don’t know whether Emily has made peace with her past– I don’t know whether it’s possible for anyone to make peace with a childhood defined by abuse. But I’m incredibly inspired by how Emily has chosen to live her life in the present, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for her future.

WHEN DOES SHE WRITE?

It’s 5:03 AM. I turned the alarm off three minutes ago. I want to go back to sleep because that’s what one does at 5:03 AM. Instead, I swing my legs out of bed and tiptoe downstairs. Ignoring the cat, who is meowing to get out of the basement, I preheat the oven and then butter and flour a bread pan. I pull a bowl from the fridge: the wet ingredients for pumpkin bread that I mixed last night. I stir in the dry ingredients, also pre-measured before bed. I dump it all in the pan, slide it in the oven, and tiptoe back up to my computer. It’s 5:14. I have an hour to work.

It’s the most productive hour of the day. Before I’ve squandered my creative juices on packing lunches, brushing little teeth, showering, or hollering “get your shoes on!” It’s just me and the words. I sit, ignore my email, and open the Word document. I enter the zone.

The Zone.

It’s elusive at any other hour of the day. But now? Now I can pound out three pages in an hour. Now I’m funny and my sentence structure is sublime. Words appear from nowhere and glide out my fingertips. Paragraphs form themselves. An hour at 5 AM is worth two hours any other time of the day.

I work until 6:15 and then shut my computer. I go down to pull the pumpkin bread from the oven so it can cool to go into lunches. I begin assembling breakfast.

Later, after I’ve dropped off my kids, I’ll go running. I’ll come home and shower and I won’t re-open my computer till 10:00. By then, I may be able to write, but some days all I’m good for is editing, invoicing, and general maintenance.

No matter. I’ve already written.

BIO: Emily Rosenbaum is a writer who lives in Boston with her three kids. She writes for academic institutions and blogs at http://emilyrosenbaum.com. Her memoir, Behind the Woodpile, is about parenting as an adult survivor of child abuse. It’s available for download here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009QD2ARI.

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When Do You Write? GEORGE WEINSTEIN

As an aspiring novelist, one of the many things I fantasize about is writing my acknowledgments. Certainly, if given the chance, I will thank all of the family and friends who supported me on my writing journey.

But I will also give special thanks to George Weinstein and the Atlanta Writers Club. Because I will be able to trace every bit of success I experience as a writer to both George and the AWC.

I met George just over five years ago, when I came across the AWC booth at the Decatur Book Festival. The following month, I attended my very first monthly meeting, where I discovered a nurturing, intelligent group of people with a passion for words. George Weinstein, then president, was the heart and soul of the Club. He is still the heart and soul of the Club. He has worked tirelessly to provide programs, workshops, and now twice yearly conferences to get our members’ manuscripts in the best shape possible. And I suspect that every working writer within a hundred miles of Atlanta, owes a least a little bit of their success to George.

A few years ago, I asked him why he did this– why he devoted so much of his time and energy to our organization. He told me quite simply, “I love helping writers make their dreams come true.”

And now, it’s George’s turn. His dream comes true this week with the release of his critically-acclaimed novel, Hardscrabble Road.

To say that I am bursting with pride would be a vast understatement. To say that publication could not have happened to a more deserving person– would also seem inadequate. But you can bet that I’ll be one of the first people in line to purchase an autographed copy of his book. And if you’re planning on making it to his book launch party at Peerless Bookstore this Saturday evening, you’d better get there early. I have a feeling there will be a line out the door.

Hip, hip, hooray– for one of our very own.

WHEN DOES HE WRITE?

I’m the most undisciplined kind of writer. I’ll go for months—sometimes years!—without working on a new novel. Then, I get the writing fever and throw myself into a project. This spell might last for six weeks or dry up in a few days. What kills this passion? I have a thousand excuses: most center on work, family time, and commitments I’ve made to the organizations for which I volunteer. All very logical, all very convenient. All BS, of course, because in 2001 and 2002 I used to get up at 3:30 or 4:00 every work morning and write for two hours, when I was inspired to complete my first novel. I wrote at lunch time. I wrote on my arm while stuck in traffic. I wrote.

For a few years thereafter, while I had a literary agent thanks to that first book (still unpublished as of 2012), my wife invited me to be a “kept man” and I wrote full-time, cranking out Hardscrabble Road in 2004 and a contemporary novel that still needs work (if only I had the time). Working half-days in 2008, I completed the kids’ adventure novel Jake and the Tiger Flight for the Tiger Flight Foundation, and I fired my agent. By 2010, now working full-time again, I managed to complete a near-future terrorism sex comedy—somehow I even had time to invent a genre!—but lately all I’ve created are more excuses. So, when do I write? Whenever I get so excited by a character or a storyline that I forget all the reasons why I don’t have time to write.

BIO:  George Weinstein is the author of the Southern historical novel Hardscrabble Road, his second work of fiction, and Managing Director of AAL, a consulting and educational services company. His work has been published locally in the Atlanta press and in regional and national anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Writers. His first novel, the children’s motivational adventure Jake and the Tiger Flight, was written for the nonprofit Tiger Flight Foundation, which is dedicated to the mission of leading the young to become the “Pilot in Command” of their lives. He wishes that there had been such an organization in Laurel, Maryland, where he misspent his youth.