It took a while to find it. I was weighing recycled content, fair trade production, size, shape, sturdiness and attractiveness of the cover, weight of paper and the whole book. I knew I wanted unlined pages. I looked in a variety of shops: Elephant Pharmacy, Global Exchange, West Portal Bookshop, Borders. I found it at Pearl Paint on Market St. in SF while doing my Christmas shopping for art supplies. It’s plain black on the outside, with a water-resistant cover.
It’s surprising to me how much the physical elements of writing affect the content. Virginia Woolf once wrote “what can I write with such a light and wispy pen?” Anne Fadiman explores this further in her essay “Eternal Ink.”
Somebody I like (Adam Gopnik? Anne Lamott?) once wrote about the rituals of writers. How there are writers who have always sharpened six pencils before starting to write, and they sharpen no fewer now that they write entirely on a computer.
What are your rituals?
I need silence. Background music is difficult, music with words makes it nearly impossible for me to write. When I remember, I turn off the ringer of the phone. I am easily enough distracted without telemarketers interrupting me.
I need solitude. I don’t like people looking at what I’ve written before I’m done. I like to talk, and another person tempts me to ask questions or engage in some way. Or else I just get into the depths of writing and then the other person has a question for me. Children are notorious for playing quietly while I’m futzing around and then becoming needy as soon as I get engrossed in my writing. Husbands are almost as bad.
I prefer to write in familiar surroundings. Otherwise, I am distracted by looking around me, looking at all the new and interesting things or books or people. Libraries are not actually a good place for me to write because there are too many temptations. The problem with writing at home is that there is always a load of laundry, or a pile of papers, or something that needs to be dealt with, that suddenly urgently needs to be done, right now before I finish this essay which I could finish later… It takes discipline to write now, while my kids are in school, and to wash dishes after they get home.
I like a clear wooden surface under my paper. I like an unlined journal for flights of inspiration and jotting notes, but I like narrow lined paper for fleshing out an essay. When I am serious, I like to use dark ink and I write in cursive letters.
Typing things into the computer works best as a introduction into editing, rather than for composing sentences. Typing helps me read over what I have written and aids in the editing process. Oh, the cut and paste buttons are my friends! But when I try to compose on the computer, I tend to stray into editing before I’ve even finished what I wanted to say, and that just becomes another distraction.
I’m thinking about taking a writing class. I haven’t had any instruction in the craft of writing English since I left high school. (My college literature classes were all in Spanish.) I found this book, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, on our shelf (except we have the old third edition). A friend directed me to this website, Holy Ink, which has occasional writing prompts. The woman who writes it also offers workshops at her home which is about an hour from mine.
Have any of you taken or taught a writing class recently? Do you recommend a particular school or type of class? Or a book on the subject?
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