Dani Shapiro
April 6, 2008

Writing Process

I know, I know, it’s been a while. I’ve been immersing myself in my new book, Devotion, and every last bit of energy has gone into the writing. Also, I spent most of the month of March in Italy, first teaching at Sirenland, our writers conference in Positano, and then traveling to Venice and Florence with Michael and Jacob. But now, settled back home, I seem to be reaching some kind of rhythm now, so I intend to blog more frequently, I promise.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the writing gets done. Yesterday I had lunch with a wonderful friend who is working on a book. He described to me the process by which he enters his writing day–a process that seemed at once perfect and beautiful and thoroughly impossible for me to imagine. Essentially, he thinks, eats, sleeps, breathes and dreams his book and nothing else. This friend of mine lives alone in the country. He doesn’t have a partner or children. I found myself, listening to him, thinking of my life P.J. (pre-Jacob) and how I used to just roll out of bed and get to work in a half-asleep state, when my inner-censor hadn’t yet woken up and started to assert herself. I turned off the ringers on all my phones. There was barely email or internet — at least not the way there is now, a constant intrusion. When my friend had finished describing his writing process, he asked if mine was similar.

“It used to be,” I said.
“So how is it different? What changed?”

I described a typical weekday morning. Being woken up to the Red Sox standings; jumping out of bed; packing a lunch box with an assortment of healthy and unhealthy food, a constant calculus; making breakfast; cajoling (okay, sometimes screaming at) a little boy who would rather stare into space dreamily than put on his socks and shoes. And more than all the facts of these mornings, the feelings beneath the facts. The love, fear, rage, frustration, hilarity, you-name-it, that goes into every single morning so that by the time I sit down at my desk, I have already lived an entire day, complete with a full spectrum of emotions.

So I have learned to adapt, over the years. To re-start. It sometimes worries me, how very much it requires for me to re-start, to find the place where my mind is once again uncluttered and unconfused. For the past number of years, this process has required a lot of yoga. An hour of yoga a day, by myself, on my mat in front of the fireplace in my bedroom. I have recently added to the yoga a meditation practice of anywhere between five and fifteen minutes, a practice I learned at a recent retreat with the brilliant teacher Sylvia Boorstein. So now that’s an hour and fifteen minutes, say. And then, after all that is done, I need to stay in the quiet. Which means no email, no internet, no phone. So hard, to stay unplugged! Many days I fail miserably. I go straight from the yoga mat to my desk, I click on the email icon and there I find the outside world. Next thing I know, I’m reading the Times online, or I’m looking up summer camps, or Googling the man I sat next to at dinner last week, or browsing net-a-porter to see if there are any Jimmy Choo boots on sale. Need I say that this is not conducive to maintaining an uncluttered mind?

But I am aware and I am working on it. The days I manage to walk downstairs after yoga, drink a bottle of water, make myself another cappuccino, then putter back upstairs and sit in the corner chair where I write–the days I manage to get a foothold in my work before the outside world rears its head–those are the best writing days, and the ones I learn from.