How inspiring it was to host the prolific and talented Claudia Mills in my home for a writers’ write-in. Claudia is one focused author – let me tell you! – and able to tune-out the cackling coffee drinkers in my kitchen, a.k.a. me. But then she graced us with stories, humor and wisdom during her much-deserved breaks. I was thrilled when she agreed to guest post on the wonderful energy that arises when writers write in the company of others. I hope you enjoy this gorgeous and generous reflection as much as I did. Thank you, Claudia.
The writing life can seem a solitary one, shared chiefly with the imaginary creatures inside our head who become the imaginary people living on the page. Sad but true, no one is going to put my words on my page except for me. Despite support and critique from a writing group and partnership with wonderful agents and editors, there is some fundamental sense in which we have to write alone.
Or do we?
Enter the idea of an author write-in, which might be the best aid to authors since the invention of the quill pen.
Here’s how it goes. Pick a day. Invite a bunch of writers to your house. It’s better if the list includes close friends as well as strangers who are soon to become friends. Commit to keeping the coffee brewing and preparing something simple and delicious as the food anchor for lunch. Ask your guests to bring other food offerings. (Expect huge quantities of extravagantly decadent sweets, writers being what they are. Do not be surprised if a few bottles of wine appear.) And what do all of you do all day long? You write.
This is how I spent a beautiful, magical day toward the end of January. I wasn’t the host. (My house, a 1500-square foot condo occupied by four adult humans, one distractingly adorable baby, one needy dog, and one aloof cat, wouldn’t be a suitable venue, though now I am thinking of alternatives that might suit.) Our host was the enormously welcoming and amazing author Jean Reidy, of Too Purpley!, Too Pickley!, and Too Princessy! Fame. It helped that her house had a cozy family room with overstuffed couches and blazing fire on the grate for writers like me who write by hand, as well as a long kitchen table and dining room table with plenty of outlets handy for those who write on their laptops. A vat of delicious vegetable soup bubbled on the stove. The array of donated sweets was extravagant.
I got there early in the morning and started writing. I wrote for hours. We broke for a leisurely lunch of wonderful writerly conversation. And then I wrote some more. The day was especially significant and satisfying for me as I was starting a brand new book, the fifth Franklin School Friends book, and the terror of facing that first blank page was abated by facing it in the company of writer friends. By the end of my time at Jean’s, I had made extensive notes for the whole book, finally figuring out Cody’s character arc and various complications of the plot. I wrote all of Chapter One. I wrote much of Chapter Two. I was giddy with self-congratulation.
Why am I able to be so much more productive at a write-in than I am at home? Why do I, who can usually write only an hour a day (and who prefers to pace myself that way), write on without ceasing? The only reason can be that I’m surrounded by other writers who are pushing themselves beyond their usual limits, too. Creativity is in the air. There is also something about consciously dedicating an entire day in this way, deliberately marking it out as special.
Stimulating as a write-in is, I don’t think I could do it every day. One a week maybe, but not more. But oh, the bliss of writing so much, so quickly, with such zest. Plus making new writer friends. Plus eating all those desserts. During the write-in at the home of the creator of Too Purpley!, nothing was “too” anything. It was all completely, wonderfully right.
Claudia Mills is the author of over 50 books for young readers, including picture books (Ziggy’s Blue-Ribbon Day), easy readers (the ten books of the Gus and Grandpa series), chapter books (Fractions = Trouble!, Being Teddy Roosevelt, How Oliver Olson Changed the World, and the Franklin School friends series), and middle-grade novels (Zero Tolerance). Her books have been named Notable Books of the year by the American Library Asssociation, nominated for dozens of state readers’ choice awards, and translated into half a dozen languages. Claudia, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University, recently left her full-time position as a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder where she published many scholarly articles on ethical and philosophical themes in children’s literature. She has written all her books between 5 and 7 in the morning while drinking Swiss Miss hot chocolate.
You can learn more about Claudia and her books at http://www.claudiamillsauthor.com/