One of the panels I took part in at the YA-hoo Festival at Chattanooga State over the weekend involved the writing process. Invariably, that discussion leads to “Where is the best place to write?”
An upstairs room. A cruise ship. A coffee shop. The answers were as varied as the authors. I offered that I probably felt most comfortable writing in a noisy newsroom with a police radio blaring, editors screaming, pneumatic tubes belching and Teletype machines clacking. I regretted that those newsrooms don’t exist anymore. Someone in the audience said that there’s an app that reconstitutes that sound. I think she was serious!
I then related that while the computer I write on is in an upstairs room, I actually do most of the my “writing” while bush-hogging on my tractor, trimming with my weed-eater or staining the garden fence. When I sit down to write in the early mornings, it’s almost as if I’m transcribing what I had “written” the day before while going about my mindless tasks. The bulk of both PAPERBOY and COPYBOY were written this way. I rarely sit down at my computer and ask myself: “Okay, what should I write now?” I can even remember once when PAPERBOY was in its final draft that I became so excited that I stopped the tractor in the middle of the field and ran into the house for some dictation from myself.
I’m reminded of the story told in one of the William Faulkner biographies. A journalist who wanted to interview the writer came to the front door of Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Miss. When Faulkner’s housekeeper answered the door, the journalist said he would like to interview the writer. The housekeeper said that it would be difficult because Faulkner was working on a new book. “If I’m not mistaken,” the journalist said, “I saw Faulkner just now walking around the courthouse square.
“That’s right,” the housekeeper said. “He’s working on a new book.”
For a clue as to where I got my writing peculiarities, I go back to my first professional newspaper job in 1967. I was a sports writer for the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial and on Friday and Saturday nights went out into the hinterlands to cover high school and college games. The sports editor said on the faraway games, I could “call in” the story to the desk. I told him I would rather hustle on back and write the game story at my desk. He allowed as how I would be cutting it close to deadline if I did that.
The reason I didn’t want to “call in” the game was because of my worrisome stutter. I felt a great amount of added pressure when I had to dictate a story on a deadline.
What I learned to do was to compose the story in my head on the way back to the office. I eventually got to where I could sit down at my typewriter and bang out a complete game story in around five minutes because I had “pre-written” the story in my head while driving.
As I look back, it was good training for a writer. The only problem was that the newspaper refused to reimburse me for speeding tickets from the Arkansas State Police.