Monday, September 26, 2016

A Writer Considers Building a Shed

I think I need a writer's shed.

I've always been a writer who loves to write in the chaos of a coffee shop—the whir of the espresso machine and all the clinking of ceramic, at least in a cool/good coffee shop.

But I've also been enamored and in love with the writer's spaces of those who long to be alone and in their own little world—Thoreau's cabin, Roald Dahl's hut, George Bernard Shaw's hut, Emerson's shack, or, my favorite, Dylan Thomas' primitive boathouse in Wales.

My wonderful Leslie gave me a present not long ago—a watercolor original painting of the inside of Thomas' space in Laugharne.


The boathouse is deliciously ruffled, yet full of Thomas' inspirations. Photos and drawings of favorite creatives—Walt Whitman and others. These are tacked and taped to the walls. There are drawings and quotes littering the space. Books on the floor and scattered on a shelf. And windows to the stunning beauty of Wales. 


I'm not considering a boathouse. And I'm not as ambitious as Shaw was. His hut was actually on a turntable so that it moved with the sun, allowing him to create primitively efficient solar power heat.

But I am ready to embark on this idea. A 10x8 space in the corner of the property—a getaway, a sacred space, a writer's haven. It's not a man cave; it's not an escape. Electricity? Maybe not. A hurricane lamp seems efficient. Heat is needed? There are propane-powered space heaters, right? Cooling? A good fan and some air flow built in through the design. Simple. Clean. Heavenly.

I've read about other writers who have built their own and it can be expensive or you can go the cheaper route, dressing up a shed from Home Depot. I'm not looking to build a separate housing unit, but it has to have some aesthetic appeal. It has to look like a place one would want to be—where one would want to find themselves on a breezy fall night, massaging words and themes.

Journalist and author Michael Pollan built a shed for himself and wrote a book about it—A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams. In the first paragraphs he writes:

"Is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn't turned those soft words over until they'd assumed a habitable shape? What they propose, to anyone who admits them into the space of a daydream, is a place of solitude a few steps off the beaten track of everyday life." 

I ordered the book. Let's see what happens. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Every Writer Wants to be Something Bigger

I had a blah day. It was angsty (is that a word?) and self indulgent. I was lost in my own ineptitude and my own mediocrity.'s okay. These things happen to people who care about their craft. At least that's my excuse.

It started, I think, from hurdles I needed to get over with the publisher of my forthcoming memoir, October Song. Nothing that can't be fixed. But issues are issues. And I would rather not deal with them. I would rather just write. I won't go into all of it here, not necessary. But it comes from the details of modern publishing—trusting proofreaders and copy editors, and believing that your work is worthy when it sometimes is minimized into just another book on the shelf, just another author in a world full of them.

So, that got me thinking about writing and its bigger meaning. Maybe not just for me, but for anyone who writes. This can get us into trouble, you know? If we think there is a bigger meaning and we are not living up to that meaning, well, it could get "angsty."

Consider this...a quote from the writer Don DeLillo:

"The writer is the person who stands outside society, independent of affiliation and independent of influence. The writer is the man or woman who automatically takes a stance against his or her government. There are so many temptations for American writers to become part of the system and part of the structure that now, more than ever, we have to resist. American writers ought to stand and live in the margins, and be more dangerous. Writers in repressive societies are considered dangerous. That's why so many of them are in jail." --Don DeLillo, from the 1988 interview with Ann Arensberg.

Wow. If every writers tired to live up to this statement, we might just all off ourselves. Don't misunderstand, I love this quote and I love what it stands for. But, seriously, it's heady. And what happens when we aren't so "dangerous?" Are we failures? Should be just give it up? Consider ourselves hopelessly mediocre and move on?

Every writer goes through times of uncertainty, self-doubt, believing that what they are doing is unworthy and pointless. It comes with the territory. But I wonder—aren't most of what we are doing, writing, ultimately forgettable? I'm not being defeatist; I'm being realistic. Aren't only a handful of us—the truly great—immortal? Aren't those the only ones that really matter?

Yes, this it getting a bit bleak. But here's where it turns around.

I was interviewed the other day on the radio about NIGHT RADIO, my novel. The interviewer had pulled quotes from the book that had "moved her." Really? I had written words that moved someone? And when she read them over the air, I questioned, aloud—did I write that? Not that I was impressed in some way, I was simply astonished that I had put words down that were worth repeating, worth sharing, worth interpreting and considering in some spiritual way, some deeper way.

I'll carry that with me now through this "angsty" phase. I suggest, as you write and create and find yourself in that "angsty" way when you want to be something bigger and bolder, that you find a piece of your art that you are proud of, or better still, something someone else has been moved by and let it wash over you.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Truth About Writer's Block: There is No Such Thing

I'm calling you out.

You do not have writer's block. There is no such thing. It is not contagious, and no one, not you, not anybody will ever catch this non-existent ailment. It's an excuse.

Who says so? Me. And many others.

From Lois Lowry, the author of The Giver:

"Did you ever go to have your braces adjusted and hear your orthodontist say. 'Oh, I'm sorry, I can't dot it. I have dentist's block today.' Of course not."

And from Linda Sue Park, author of A Long Walk to Water:

"I think it could be called I-do-not-feel-like-writing block."

Face it. Writer's block is bullshit.

Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of Love in the Time of Cholera, once said the only cure for the writer facing a blank page is death.

So, if you don't want to better write!

I agree that we all have times when writing feels like digging a ditch or we are simply ill-prepared for the task or Game of Thrones is on or the NFL season is getting started or our car needs an oil change. Pick a reason not to write. There are a million. But if you are a writer, you must write. Something. Anything.

Make a goal. "I will write one good paragraph today." Stay away from word count. You'll focus too much on the numbers. Then whatever you write, before you close the laptop, leave a little behind, a bit in the tank. Ernest Hemingway said he never stopped writing until he had a pretty good idea where he was going next, so when he returned he was ready.

And lastly, drop the phrase from your list of excuses. Drop it from your vocabulary. If it isn't there, then you can't see it, hear it, feel it, or experience it.

Think of your writing as working out. It may not be pleasant getting started on that elliptical, but once you get going, you'll feel great. And when you're done for the day, you are on top of the world.

So, sit down, open your laptop, your journal, your note pad and write, write, write.