Today begins my first-ever blog series, “Butt Meets Chair: YA Authors Talk About Making Writing Actually Happen.”
“Butt Meets Chair” was a little brainstorm I had recently, when I was musing on what I most enjoy hearing about from other writers: the writing process itself. Not the general, emotional, philosophical musings. I mean, the minute-by-minute labor. The deepest, hardest heart of it, where you’re actually sitting in a chair, filling a blank page with, you know, stuff. Sometimes it’s easy for us to think of writers as secretive people who conduct literary magic behind closed doors, and we’re not supposed to ask or know about the brain-pain, the constant microscopic decisions, or the bizarre rituals that keep us going. But I like asking, because when I do, I always learn a little more about writing, about that person, and about myself.
So periodically on my blog, I’ll be posing these questions to YA authors about exactly what goes on during that butt-in-chair time.
Who better to start with than one of my best friends, Kim Purcell. Kim and I met years and years ago in a writer’s group in Los Angeles, before we were writing YA or had even the slightest hope of being published. Our friendship has grown and changed — in only the best ways — through the experiences of becoming parents (our older daughters are now very close friends themselves), moving our families from California to New York, and eventually, navigating our paths as debut YA novelists. It still seems incredibly cool to me that we published our books just months apart, and we often find ourselves falling into easy chat about writing and authordom, happy to find at least one other person is experiencing the same bizarre things. It’s like a special language we both speak.
Kim’s novel, “Trafficked” (Penguin/Viking) is one of those books you think you don’t want to read, because it deals with a heartwrenching and undeniably real topic — human trafficking — but once you pick it up, you can’t put it down. By the end, you’re so glad to have met the main character and be part of her world. I’m thrilled that “Trafficked” has gotten great reviews and is creating an awareness where there needs to be an awareness. And although I already know a lot about Kim’s process, it was fun to hear even more through this interview:
In general, what’s your writing “routine”?
A lot of my writing routine starts before I’m sitting down at the computer. I go for a walk or run with the dog and start thinking about what I’m going to write that day. I think of the setting, imagine it, feel it, touch it. I get into character and imagine I am my character. I think her thoughts and see her reactions. By the time I get home, I run to the computer and start pounding away at the keys for two to four hours, sweat and all.
Do you write in the same space most of the time? What does it look and feel like?
Kim's sunroom office. Wowza points for the uncluttered desk.
I usually write in a little sun room in my house off the living room. It’s got a lot of light and it’s always tidy and clean, pretty much the only room in the house you could say this about. I can’t write with a disaster around me and I don’t like a lot of knick-knacks. Many writers love to fill their space with things to feed their imagination but that just distracts me from what’s going on in my brain.
Where do you go when you want to mix it up with your writing space?
If things aren’t flowing, I always head to a coffee shop, though that can be distracting too if some people are chatting next to you about something juicy. I’m a shameless eavesdropper.
What do you need to have with you when you write? What do you need to be removed from?
I need a clean desk and a computer and sometimes I like hot black tea with honey and soy milk. I can’t write with loud music playing.
Do you have little rules for yourself to stay focused, disciplined, and motivated?
It’s very tempting to schedule meetings or doctor’s appointments during my writing time but I try not to because it breaks my routine and makes it harder to write after the appointment.
How do you get past the times when you can’t focus or feel like it’s just “not happening today”?
I do it anyway. Usually you can do little things when it’s not happening like chapter titles or work on picky sentence editing. Sometimes I brainstorm about the area that’s stopping me by making a list. Sometimes I write a “fun” chapter, something I don’t intend to include, maybe something sexy or disgusting. The funny thing is that these “fun” chapters often make it in. There’s less pressure.
What’s your totally weird writing “eccentricity”? For instance, I have to write with my computer on my lap; there’s something about being connected to it as much as possible that makes a difference for me.
That’s a great question. I guess I look very weird when I’m writing. The chiropractor says I’ve got to sit up tall and stretch every hour and all that, but I get into these crazy positions while I’m writing, like with my back all curved and sometimes feet up on the desk. It’s happens when I’m really into the character and if I don’t allow it, it puts a distance between me and the writing, which makes the writing weaker. If I didn’t do yoga, I’d be a total mess.
To learn more about Kim and her work as a writer, teacher, and yogi, visit her website at www.kimpurcell.com.
If you’re a published or soon-to-be-published YA author and would like to be included in this series, contact me!