We’re so pleased to have author Lori Nelson Spielman‘s on the site today with a great guest post about writing.
Writing is hard. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what George Orwell had to say. “Writing is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.”
And Ernest Hemmingway added, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Dorothy Parker agreed. “I hate writing, I love having written.”
Oh, I’m well aware of the fantasy. I, too, once believed that writers spent their days in front of a roaring fire wrapped in a fuzzy robe, dreaming up brilliant stories, smiling as they effortlessly and eloquently transferred their thoughts onto the page. I would imagine them ending their day with a celebratory meal and drink, congratulating themselves on the day’s productivity.
In truth, getting words onto the page is nothing short of a lesson in humility and perseverance. It’s a profession fueled by insecurity and self-loathing. We sit at our desks, isolated for months, sometimes years, never knowing if our drivel (it’s always drivel to us) is adding up to a bestselling novel or a soon-to-be rejected manuscript (we naturally assume it’s the latter). On those rare occasions when a smile happens upon our lips, we quickly bite it back, knowing how easily a positive thought could jinx the entire project.
Clearly, the writing process is tough. So why make it any harder, right? Why not find the most comfortable chair, the prettiest view, the loveliest background music—anything and everything to make the task of writing more pleasant. Not everyone agrees.
Some writers are downright masochistic. Ernest Hemmingway wrote at the break of dawn, despite the chilly air. “You warm as you write,” he said.
And it gets worse. Virginia Woolf worked in a converted toolshed, so cold in the winter she couldn’t hold a pen. Stephen King wrote his first novel, Carrie, while locked in his laundry room.
We love these writers. They crank out bestseller after bestseller. And I applaud them. They’re doing something right.
But I’m not that person. It’s no different than my workout style. I’m happy to stretch and flex in yoga class, but don’t ask me to do a downward dog in a 105 degree studio. Likewise, I’ll slog my daily three miles, but I’m not about to run an ultra marathon where my toenails fall off and I hallucinate imaginary killer coyotes.
While we’re on the subject of exercise, Haruki Murakami, the acclaimed author of Norwegian Wood, said in a 2004 interview with The Paris Review, “I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.”
Seriously? You had me at four a.m.
These successful writers have taken isolation to a new level. Other solitary writers include George Bernard Shaw, who drafted his early works in London’s British Museum Reading Room. He once shared, “People bother me. I came here to hide from them.” Agatha Christie plotted her famous mystery novels while soaking in her Victorian bathtub, eating apples. Edith Wharton would write in bed, sandwiched between her dog and her inkwell. Mark Twain had a private study built, where he would write and smoke the cigars his wife forbade. His family would blow a horn if he was needed in the house.
In a 2013 interview with The Daily Beast, the beloved late author and poet Maya Angelou confessed, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Firmly planted in the isolation camp, Angelou revealed that she wrote in a hotel room, paying by the month. Along with a bed, a table and a bath, she kept a Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary and a Bible in the room. She had all the paintings and decorations removed. Management and housekeeping were instructed not to enter. “About every two months,” she said, “I get a note slipped under the door: “Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linen. We think it may be moldy!”
So very impressive. Obviously, these literary superstars have discovered the secret to this writing gig. Yet there are other writers who choose to write in public, and seem to thrive on energy, like E.B. White, who wrote in his family’s living room, “despite the carnival that is going on around me.”
Suzy Krause, author of Valencia and Valentine, loves writing at a library, a coffeeshop, or a coworking space. “It’s not that those places are quieter than my house; I think it’s the knowledge that the other people around me might be working on creative projects and daydreaming about exciting new things.”
Author of You and Me and Us, Alison Hammer, seems to have found the sweet spot. “There’s something I love about writing at coffee shops—it’s the perfect balance of white noise. If I’m in a place that’s too quiet, I look for noise and distraction. If it’s too loud, I can’t concentrate. So that’s why I love to write at a coffee house, ideally at a table by an outlet so I can sit for hours.”
As for me, I’m neither a solitary nor a social writer. My main concern is comfort. Whether in a crowded coffee shop or holed up alone, I need a good space. When at the library, I choose a spot by the window overlooking the garden. At home, I surround myself with good smells (balsam candle is my favorite), great coffee (hot skim latte before five three p.m.; a nice red any time thereafter), soft music (generally singer-songwriter genre) and a pretty view.
I have a perfectly acceptable office in the basement of our house, with a large-screen desktop and complete privacy (as Stephen King said, a locked door is a must.) But it’s a bit chilly down there, and for some reason I find it confining. I rarely write in this space. Instead, I gravitate to my kitchen table with my laptop, where I can see the river drifting by, the wildflowers in bloom. I can watch birds and squirrels and even deer (generally munching on those wildflowers). When I’m in the Northern Michigan town of Charlevoix, I write against a backdrop of sailboats and paddle-boarders and Piping Plovers flitting overhead.
Do I sound like a diva? Trust me, I’m not. Here’s where my husband and I stayed, in Garfield, Arkansas, when we traveled cross country. Needless to say, we didn’t order champagne and strawberries. Maid service was optional. Swear to God. It made the Rosebud Motel in Schitt’s Creek look like the Four Seasons.
But I wonder, does a nice view help or hinder my writing process. I confess, while at my kitchen table, I often find myself gazing out the window, my mind adrift. And full-disclosure, I’m not cranking out a book a year.
On the other hand, I don’t dread my writing time. In fact, when I’m out of town (even when staying somewhere other than the aforementioned motel), I find myself missing my writing routine. When I return home, I slip into my writing space like it’s a beloved cardigan. I light my candle, prepare my coffee, turn on my Sonos, and open my laptop.
And then I stare out the window…
Okay, maybe Stephen King is on to something. Perhaps it’s time to relocate to the laundry room.
New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author Lori Nelson Spielman takes readers on a journey across Italy alongside a cast of strong women out to break a family curse and change their own destinies—and find themselves in the process—in her sparkling new novel, THE STAR-CROSSED SISTERS OF TUSCANY.
About THE STAR-CROSSED SISTERS OF TUSCANY
Emilia Fontana lives a very ordinary life in her small Brooklyn apartment, surrounded by the family and friends she has always known, earning her keep at the Fontana family bakery—and that’s how she likes it. She is a second-born daughter—and the Fontana Second-Daughter Curse dictates that second daughters will never find long-lasting love or amount to much, anyway. So Emilia is content to spend her days quietly, living out the only life she’s ever known.
Enter eccentric Aunt Poppy, the black sheep of the family. Emilia knows she’s not supposed to speak to the woman who betrayed her nonna many years ago, but when Poppy calls out of the blue and offers an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy for Emilia and her cousin, Lucy—the 20-something generation of Fontana second-born daughters—she can’t exactly turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.
It’s not long before Emilia and Lucy learn that the vivacious Aunt Poppy, who dresses in colorful scarves and lives life to the fullest, has ulterior motives for this trip. The real reason for their adventure: she’s determined to break the Fontana Second-Daughter Curse once and for all and live out the rest of her days with the man she fell in love with many years ago.
What follows is a whirlwind adventure across the Italian countryside that will make you laugh, cry and root for Emilia and Lucy as they challenge tradition and decide their own fate. Overflowing with imagery of Venice, Tuscany, and the Amalfi coast, a bit of history, all-too-relatable and hilarious moments, and touching family tenderness, this book is as sweet as cannoli.