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A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves
Judy Reeves : A Writer's Book of Days Interview

A Writer's Book of Days

Interview with Author Judy Reeves

Q: Why practice writing? You either do it or don't do it, right? Do writers need to practice?

A: Writers need practice like pianists need practice, or singers, or basketball players: to get better. But practice is also a way of doing the writing, as in the practice of yoga or meditation; it's a regularly applied routine or pattern to which attention is paid and time given. Many writers attend to a daily practice session as a warm-up or way of entering into their work. Others use writing practice to keep their writing muscles (hand, heart) toned.

Q: In your book, you supply a "prompt" for every day… sometimes just a few words, sometimes a phrase, or a quote from another writer, but you never give any other direction. How can that help a writer learn to write?

A: All of us have so many stories to tell, experiences to relate, and ideas to explore, that sometimes when we sit down to write, we become paralyzed by the array of choices. This is when the brain kicks in doing what it does best: measuring, evaluating, judging — everything is right and nothing is right — so what happens is . . . nothing. The unadorned writing prompts work like the blocks runners use to start a race, or music that seduces us into the dance. With the prompt, comes an image. Writers grab the tail of that image and simply begin. The best learning comes in the doing, and writing from prompts engenders doing.

Q: Does anyone ever publish what they've written to these daily prompts?

A: Novels, short stories, flash fictions, memoirs, personal narrative and creative nonfiction, even poetry — all have found publication from their start as writing prompts.

Q: What's the fascination or "obsession" of some writers with a particular pen or certain kind of notebook or ink color? Does it really matter?

A: Part habit, part familiarity, part ritual, all of it to make the work easier. Writing, like any creative act, is fraught with anxiety. The anxiety comes in part from the loss of control that making art requires, so we do what we can to maintain some kind of control — the same familiar pen, the same familiar notebook, our coffee in the same cup. Also, we use ritual as a way of entering into time and place set aside for our creative work. Using a certain kind of notebook or paper is a way of honoring the ritual.

Q: What about a special place to write? The idea of "a room of your own," or writing retreats, a hideaway? Do writers really need all that?

A: Need? No. Want? Yes, definitely. The distractions of daily life can make it difficult to focus. A room with a door that closes (and, in some cases, locks), a place we can go and work, undisturbed, with time set aside that allows the deep concentration and solitude required for creative work, is the desire of every writer. Although good work does get done at the breakfast table, on the subway, and in crowded cafes with a soundtrack of music, conversation, and a clamorous espresso machine, most any writer will tell you she does her best work in solitude and away from the everyday.

Q: If this is so, how can writing with a group of other writers serve the individual writer?

A: Writing alone/writing together is an altogether different phenomenon. Something happens when writers (or other artists) share a space but do their own individual work that creates a charged atmosphere; you can actually feel it in the room. This is when synchronicity happens, too — the same image appears in two or three pieces, duplicate use of the identical, unusual word. In my experience, writers take more risks when they work alone/together; they trust their intuition more, go a little wilder, are more willing to lose control of the writing. Sometimes this is when the best writing happens.

Q: You often make reference to the muse in your book. And we know that certain writers have referred to their wives or husbands or lovers as muses, but is there really such a thing?

A: Who can say what inspires us to create? But there is inspiration and it does come from somewhere that seems outside our selves. Why not explain this mystery as the ancients did, give credit to the muse and be grateful for her generosity.

Q: Why so many books about writing? Do writers really need guidebooks to write?

A: We human beings are storytelling creatures; it comes to us naturally. Couple this natural inclination to tell our stories with the spread of interest over the last few decades in writing as a creative expression and you've got a huge number of people who want to learn how to become better writers so they can tell their stories more effectively.

Most successful writers will tell those who want to write that the best way to learn is to read prodigiously and to do their own writing. Still, there is much to be gained by studying with the masters through the books they've written on the art and craft of creative writing.

Q: Why does it seem so hard for writers to write? Seems there's a lot of talk about writer's block and of writers needing courage or inspiration.

A: There are dozens of variations of Red Smith's oft-quoted line about writing, "Writing is easy. You just sit at the typewriter and open a vein." One thing about writing that is different than other creative expressions such as dance, or music or painting, is that it's so damned concrete. Language is concrete. So you have an idea or an image, which isn't concrete, and you try to reproduce it in words, which are. No matter how hard you try, no matter what words you write, erase, write again, you can never create exactly the whole and beautiful idea in language. There you are, late into the night, just you and your notebook or your computer, trying to capture starlight in a jar. Trying to capture starlight in a jar.

Q: Why is writing important?

A: Telling our stories is a way we connect with one another and it's this connection that keeps us alive as a species. Writing takes our stories beyond our circle into the wider human circle; we share histories, cultures, and beliefs through our written stories, out of this can come understanding, compassion, acceptance. Writing allows us to claim our own truth. It invites self-expression. Writing gives voice to grief and pain and anger and helps us heal. When we write, we open ourselves to inspiration and through inspiration connect with something greater than ourselves. Writing is art and art is essential for human evolution. •

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