Lorrine T. asks: Hi Elisa- I've always wondered what it takes for a working, successful writer to get to that place of focus where you can be productive. I’ve heard some use music, and some create a special writer’s space. What helps you get to that place?
Elisa answers: That’s a great question, Lorrine. I think every author would answer this differently. My greatest weakness has always been poor time management skills, so focus and productivity is something I occasionally struggle with, especially in the last two years when so many life changes have happened. When I was single, I had more or less a set routine that focused predominantly on my work. Now I have spousal responsibilities that include helping to care for my father-in-law, a bigger household, and pets. We also have a side business now, so I’m not solely writing books anymore.
When it comes to writing, I need to avoid procrastination. That means finding the discipline to stay off social media and make writing the priority.
Space is important too. My husband and I each have a room in the basement for our offices. However, lately I’ve been ending up in other places in the house, like my bedroom, or I go to the library, where I can stare out the window. I feel a little guilty about that, given that I’ve got a perfectly good office space! I think the room needs a couch so it feels more like a studio and less like a formal office (although it’s painted tangerine—not many formal offices are tangerine). I need a more comfortable desk chair too. Both are on my wish list.
When writing, I need relative quiet. I don’t like to write with music or TV in the background. Writing in a coffee shop is different; for some reason, I’m able to tune out that white noise, although if the place is too loud or busy, then I’m unable to concentrate.
If I’m in the drafting stage of a novel, I set a word count goal and do my best to meet it. If I’m in the revision stage, I usually work on a couple of chapters per day, depending on how problematic the writing is. If I’m in the editing stage, then I set a page count goal. If I’m struggling in any of those areas, I either go for a long walk or drive, or take a shower for as long as the hot water holds out. All three of those things will help me get unstuck or recharge my battery.
I tend to work in 45- or 60-minute time blocks with frequent breaks. My husband and I are increasingly busy with additional projects and responsibilities, so we try to connect and touch base throughout the day whenever we can. Sometimes we’ll go for a walk. Sometimes we’ll have lunch. Sometimes we’ll take a nap. Sometimes we just pop in on each other and say hello. It’s very important to us that we maintain connection no matter what, for the sake of our relationship as well as our work.
Craig and I read our books to each other. Usually at night, in bed, before we turn out the lights.
Dare I say, there are few things more romantic or intimate.
This is not an act of hubris—it’s not like this takes place every night, like some sort of pat-yourself-on-the-back-ritual. What I mean is that rather than showing each other our works in progress, near completion, in manuscript form, we wait until the finished product: a book we can hold and touch and smell. And then one of us proceeds to read to the other, usually a chapter or two per night. When it gets really good, we beg for another.
The most recent was Craig’s novel, Julep Street, which launches today.
Throughout my life, I had given considerable thought to the qualities I wanted to attract in a love relationship. I’d write them in lists—some detailed, some general—and more often than not, three items appeared in each one: funny; best friend; same profession.
I can’t tell you how many people frowned upon that last one, back when I was foolish enough to share such things. “You don’t want that,” they’d say. (A lot of people took it upon themselves to tell me what I didn’t want. Every last one of them was wrong.) Mind you, a potential lover or spouse with a different career wasn’t necessarily a deal-breaker; but I instinctively knew that it meant something to me, although I never could put my finger on what.
Sometimes it still astounds me how Craig ticked off just about every item on those lists, especially the top three. And I was right about the shared profession. We are able to do what we love without being in direct competition with one another. We are able to talk about and listen to each other’s workdays without the conversation being obligatory. We support each other. We serve as sounding boards for each other. We contribute complementary talents. We know where the other person is coming from.
I still can’t tell you why that’s so important to me, but I can tell you that as a partner and spouse, I feel more at home with Craig than I have with anyone else I have ever dated. And it’s not that I sought sameness; on the contrary, our writing styles vary, our process and approach varies, and sometimes even our opinions about the publishing business vary. But at night, when the book is open, and I am hearing him read the words he wrote, tell the story he crafted, I fall in love all over again. And he with me when the words and voice and story are mine.
David O. asks: I love books, read all the time, but I’ve never reread a book. Even if I absolutely loved it. Have you ever reread any books and how did it differ the second or third time if you have done it?
Elisa answers: This is a great question. I am a creature of habit, so there are certain books and/or authors I’ll repeatedly read. I read all of Judy Blume’s books over and over when I was a kid, and have reread a few of them as adults and still love them. My sister read S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders in school, and loved it so much that she read it to my twin brother and me; I, in turn, loved and read it incessantly throughout my adolescence. There were books I slogged through in junior high and high school--Animal Farm, A Christmas Carol, for example—that I reread in my thirties with a much deeper understanding and appreciation (A Christmas Carol is a yearly tradition now, especially to pass the time when I'm traveling). I’ve read Richard Russo’s Straight Man a couple of times and laugh just as much.
And the more I reread Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, the more I am fascinated by just how good it is. I didn’t have that appreciation for it the first time.
I read John Taylor’s In the Pleasure Groove once and then listened to it on audiobook. (I mean, come on—who wouldn’t want to be read to by John Taylor?) And I loved my husband’s The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter so much I read that one twice in a span of months—once when he sent me an advanced copy for me to offer an endorsement (this was well before we got involved; I think it’s still on the Amazon product page, but it’s lost its value completely) and again when the book launched. I read it again the following year. It’s still my favorite of his books, which kind of surprises me. I’m sure if I reread it now, it will take on even more meaning since it’s set in Billings and I know the city so well now.
There’s also Stephen King’s On Writing, which I occasionally reread just as a refresher or battery charger for my own writing.
But to specifically answer your question, the second or third reading experience varies with each book. As I mentioned, sometimes I develop a deeper appreciation for the writing or the story, or notice something about a character I hadn’t previously. Sometimes the entertainment factor is exactly as enjoyable, like watching a favorite movie or TV series repeatedly. I can’t recall any book I’ve reread where I thought, That wasn’t as good as I remembered.
Books I would like to reread in the near future:
Steve Healy’s How I Became a Famous Novelist
Richard Russo’s Straight Man (yes, again)
Karen Booth’s Bring Me Back
Marien Keyes’ The Other Side of the Story
And, believe it or not, one of my own books--Adulation. That one has been on my mind lately for some reason. The problem with rereading my own books is that I constantly find something I wish I'd worded better.
But I have such a long To Be Read list that I’m not sure I’ll get to any of them any time soon. (So many books, so little time…) It’s a good problem to have.
Have you reread a book? If so, tell me about it in the Comments!
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.