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January 16, 2012

Behind the Book — How to Quilt a Story

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , — jennifer @ 6:33 pm

A well meaning interviewer once said to me, “It must be wonderful to have endless, uninterrupted hours to just write and write.”

I replied, “It must be. I hope to experience it sometime.”

Today is one of those days that drives a writer (or any person) crazy. Every time I start on a task, something else comes along to take me out of it. Mondays are always busy days, even on holidays when so many folks aren’t at their desks (have I ever mentioned how much I love working on holidays when the phone and email are completely quiet?). I know on Mondays to expect at least a certain amount of distraction, and I know most of my Monday morning will be given over to the housekeeping of writing– the emails and phone calls and sorting through files or correspondence, things that need addressing or scheduling or paying, etc.

Every time I’ve turned back to the book today (the one I’m still trying to research and outline and figure out), after being pulled away from it, I have been immediately yanked away from it once again. At this stage in the book, this isn’t nearly as nerve-inducing (i.e. insanity-making) as it can be in, say, the heavy writing or editing phases. But it’s still frustrating. And exhausting. This kind of day is far more tiring than a day in which I write 30 or more pages.

Isaac Asimov once said, “Thinking is the activity I love best, and writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers. I can write up to 18 hours a day. Typing 90 words a minute, I’ve done better than 50 pages a day. Nothing interferes with my concentration. You could put an orgy in my office and I wouldn’t look up– well, maybe once.”

This is exactly the sort of writer I am– my literary agent has called me, in a fond and somewhat amused way, “obsessive” on more than one occasion– except that emails and phone calls, etc., can sometimes be more distracting than orgies (I can only assume).

My mother calls it the Patchwork Quilt method of writing: because life is busy and unpredictable, and because it’s not always (try almost never) possible to enjoy long, uninterrupted hours of writing, you have to grab moments when you can. You learn to write between things, during things, in spite of things. Not just in spite of or in between emails and phone calls, but often in spite of or in between health worries, divorce, moving, the loss of loved ones. You take the leftover scraps of time and you work on one square here, another square there, till eventually you have an entire book, woven together, piece by piece by piece.

So that is what I’m doing today: quilting. And hoping that tomorrow, or at least a portion of it, won’t be quite so interrupted.