This post is by Tamara Lush, author of Tell Me a Fantasy. She was recently chosen as one of 24 writers for the Amtrak Residency program, and in 2017, she’ll be riding trains and writing romance. Be sure to follow her journey on social media using #Tamtrak!
As a journalist, I’ve gotten used to writing anywhere and everywhere: pecking out a story at a half-destroyed hotel in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, sending paragraphs to my editor in the middle of a hurricane in my car, scratching out notes with a pad and pencil during an execution.
When I began writing fiction, I figured I had to get serious. I needed a desk. A lamp. An ergonomic chair. Since I have a minimalist aesthetic, I put a small vase of flowers (a dainty cluster of white roses) in a vase. My Uniball pen and a small Moleskine notebook sat at the ready, next to my Macbook. Everything gleamed with possibility.
I sat in my new, clean space, ready for the words to flow.
I stared at the screen. I typed the words CHAPTER ONE on the page. And yet, nothing still.
It seemed that silence and order were not what I needed for my creative process.
So I migrated to the sofa. A little better. Eventually I settled onto my treadmill desk. Better, still, because I was in motion. Sometimes I stood at the kitchen counter, hammering sentences into paragraphs, which would eventually turn into a book. Back and forth, standing, sitting, walking. It was a journey taken all under my own roof, writing that first book.
As I continued to write, I realized I needed less structure. I mixed up my environment, changing every few days depending on my mood and the scene I was writing. Some days I’d listen to music. Other days, ambient noise of thunderstorms.
As writers, we’re all different. We all have rituals and necessary environments, no matter how small or eccentric, to help inspire and push us along our literary journey
Jane Austen organized the family breakfast, then wrote for hours. James Joyce’s wife served him coffee and rolls in bed, then he played piano before picking up a pen. Vladimir Nabokov composed painstakingly detailed drafts of his work on notecards, and gave the cards to his wife to type into manuscript form.
Like most modern writers, I don’t have the privilege of someone feeding me breakfast in bed or typing my notes. I have a day job, a husband, two demanding dogs, friends to see, places to go and life to live. Each day, I try to to cram it all into a 24-hour period. There’s also that pesky sleep thing to contend with.
And so, I embrace the chaos. When I’m really stuck on a book, I take my work on the road. I head to one of the many local coffee shops in my city of St. Petersburg, Florida. I choose the location depending on my level of writer’s block. If I’m just at paragraph-level stuck, I go to Bandit, a hip, minimalist place that serves cold brew and loud indie music. If I’m scene-level stuck, I head for Kahwa Coffee, a more bustling and noisy joint. It seems that the more hectic the atmosphere, the more I’m able to focus. It must have something to do with my journalism background. In chaos, I can focus like a Buddhist monk, regardless of the number of people around me, or the noise level.
Right now, I’m working on my next novel. It’s the book of my heart, one about a newspaper publisher struggling to save her dying business. I’ve written most of it, but I’m in the phase where I need serious re-writing and an emotionally punchy ending.
So instead of sitting at a pretty desk, I’m taking the book across the country. I’ll be working on it during an Amtrak Residency — I was one of 24 writers chosen to take a train trip and write.
I’ll be in a sleeper car, in the bar car, in the observation car, moving forward and across the U.S. as I work on the novel. The change of scenery, new experiences and disruption in routine will give my work a much-needed jolt of adrenaline during the editing process. I’m certain the energy will translate to the page, and the reader will feel my own love for the book. When you travel — even if it’s to the corner coffee shop — something about you changes imperceptibly. And isn’t that subtle, beautiful change what we want to inspire in our readers?
So the next time you’re stuck with your writing, try getting up from your desk. Embrace the chaos that is life, and see what unfolds.