“Okay, now where was I?”
I thought when I left working in The Wichita Eagle newsroom, I wouldn’t be saying those words as I wrote a column. But I said exactly that just two minutes ago. And an hour before that.
In a newsroom, phones ring constantly, which means the room is filled with reporters talking on the phone as they type, talking to each other, humming, whistling, walking by, making coffee, drinking coffee, dropping mail and press releases on your desk, etc.
You would think in this quiet house where I now work I could whip out a column uninterrupted. Tell that to the UPS man, the nine – count them, nine – telemarketers calling, the ambulances going by, dogs barking at everything from a squirrel to a leaf falling from a tree, car radios that vibrate the windows, and the list goes on.
I was chagrined when I quit typing to answer the door recently but grinned when I saw it was a flower delivery. But no, not for me. The bouquet was for the across-the-street neighbor who wasn’t home. With a big old fake smile, I said, “Of course I’ll deliver them.” But then I knew I’d need to make sure to notice when she got home from work because I was leaving town that evening.
Back upstairs in my tiny office I said aloud, “Now where was I?”
I talked to several authors about this dilemma. One thing for sure: Novelists have it rougher than columnists. Wichitan Arlene Rains Graber has written three novels, one nonfiction devotional book and some short stories. Her piece in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers” brought a smile to my face because she hit the nail on the head.
In it she tells about when a neighbor dropped by for a chat. Arlene explained she was working so it wasn’t a good time. As the woman gave her a half-wave goodbye, she cringed. “Just because I work at home – and a writer at that, which no one takes as serious work – doesn’t mean my days are empty,” she wrote.
Arlene says writing novels requires “thoughtful, unleashed fabrication.” I loved that. She manages to write at home, but when it’s time for serious editing she heads out of town. She goes back East to a retreat in the spring and goes to various isolated locations in Kansas in the fall.
My friend and author Cheryl Lu Lien Tan, who was a fashion writer before becoming an author, goes to a retreat for artists, writers, composers and poets when possible. There, she can work without worrying about anything. “They make your meals. All you have to do is work. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you’re not interrupted or distracted,” she said.
Another friend and fellow North High grad Janice Graham writes novels. She finds a quiet, somewhat secluded place to live and work far, far from Kansas. She’s living in Italy now. When she comes home for a visit we tease her about her tough life. “It’s not like I’m in a luxurious villa vacationing,” she said.
Authors agree on one thing, it takes discipline to write a book. Some take a year to complete a book. Others take longer. Some write three hours a day. Others write for eight hours. Some say they write for many consecutive days and then take a week or two off.
And I was happy to learn that unlike many newsroom journalists who can write undistracted in the eye of a hurricane, some writers need a quiet atmosphere. They, too, give their heads a shake and say to themselves, “Okay, now where was I?”
Oh hey, the mail just came!