The Writing Life: Keeping it Real

I’m not sure what it is about the miscellany of how writers and other artists live their daily lives that’s always fascinated me.  I know better than to expect anything earth-shattering—and yet, somehow, it’s a comfort to know someone as accomplished as Stephen King has to find time to take the dog out just like the rest of humanity. 

Back when I first started out, I treated myself to a day planner that included photographs of famous writers busy at work in their homes. The photographer, Jill Krementz, was the wife of the late Kurt Vonnegut.  She, if anyone, ought to know what it’s like to live with a writer.  God bless her soul.

My favorite photograph in the planner is one taken of Susan Minot sitting at a little secretary desk that’s wedged between her refrigerator and what looks to be a pantry or make-shift bookcase. It still speaks to me to this day not because Susan is scribbling away on her notepad, but because her child’s artwork and fingerprints are on the fridge right beside the magnetic poetry tiles.

I suppose it’s easy to romanticize the creative life. We imagine Kerouac on the road or Virginia Woolf retreating to a room of her own or Ernest Hemingway living the dream down in Key West.  There’s this strange aura we place around writers.  We want mystery. We want magic.  In fact, I’ve never been to an author reading where one, if not all, of the following questions hasn’t been asked:

Can you tell us a little about where you write your stories?

Do you write first thing in the morning or are you a night owl?

How about word count?  Do you shoot for thousand every single day?

Ah, and yes—where do you get your ideas from?

Everybody leans in waiting for some kind of revelation to take place.  The author stands behind the podium shifting her weight from one foot to the other as she tries to find a creative way to make jotting down chapter notes on the back of a grocery receipt while she waits in the car for her son to get out of band practice sound exotic.  Depending on the day, maybe it is. 

The author Cynthia Newberry Martin has a wonderful feature on her website called Catching Days. Since 2009, she’s invited a different author each month to share an essay on what it’s like to live a day in his/her writing life.  Besides the photographs in my planner, these essays have become a life line for me, especially on the days when it feels as though life and work are in a constant tug-of-war with one another.  I encourage you to read them.  They really do bring everything into perspective.    

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