And here’s how it’s working

In my last blog, I talked about my “hummingbird” approach to writing — all fits and starts and never letting yourself assume that you can only write when and if you have long, uninterrupted blocks of time.  Yes, it works, but do I yearn for long, uninterrupted blocks?  Of course!

A progress report.  My current project, a novel about a Jewish-American woman born in 1918 and that follows her life for approximately 40 years, is actually taking shape.  I’m about 130 pages into it and even though it’s mostly being writing under the constraints of my “hummingbird” method, things are starting to fall into place.  I’m enjoying getting to know the protagonist, as well the other characters in her life, and look forward to each new, albeit brief, session.

eb56bb711def1f34ffb1a16a49c7a222Because this novelis set in real places and at a real time in history, I needed to do a lot of basic research before

I ever wrote a word.  But once I’d completed what I absolutely needed in the way of research, I had a choice:  to either continue to research everything I possibly could or or to start writing and do

I love the research and could easily let it drag on for years and years and never actually start to write. Working as I do, when I come to a point in the story where research is essential, I either stop and do it on the spot or mark the passage and return to it later.research on the fly.  I chose the latter.

Stay tuned.

In the Moment

Now that summer is winding down, I’ve launched a new writing project and boy . . . does that feel good. Summer is a busy time for me. Luisa and I receive (and welcome!) many out-of-town family members and friends, either in Sebastopol or at the farm. This is also the time that my work representing the Università Cattolica del Sacro CuoreUCSC-Milan in Milan heats up. This summer we had Italian students at UCLA; Stanford; UC Berkeley; Columbia; The University of San Francisco; and the University of New Orleans. Last summer, I was starting work on the film treatment that eventually became “I Love You California.” I tried to squeeze in minutes of writing between social and professional obligations. It didn’t work well. Mostly, I felt frustrated with myself for not getting enough done. But this summer, I played it differently. I had a general idea of what my next project would be, but rather than Rezanov & 'Concepcion imageexpend energy feeling resentful, stressed or conflicted, I let myself enjoy our family and friends and did what needed to be done to insure good summers for our students. In short, I did my best to stay “in the moment” and use whatever downtime I had not to write, but to think about writing. The result: we had a very enjoyable, relaxed summer and, truth be known, I wouldn’t have accomplished much even if I had fretted about it.   This way, having thought about it but not having butted my head against a wall, I’m ready to go with a sufficiently clear idea of how to proceed. This summer taught me  an important lesson.  Now all I have to do is remember it!

Writing and the Art of Fermentation (Part 2)

It took me a while to realize that I’d developed a system for sustaining my writing over long periods of time.  There was nothing intentional about it.  It only became evident in hindsight.  Here’s how my writing process seems to work:

  1.  I get an idea for a writing project and start to think about it.  A lot of it’s just that.  Thinking.  Sometimes I also take notes.  If I can sustain my attraction to the idea for a few days or weeks, I’ll get serious and really get to work on it.
  2. Once started, I can almost guarantee that eventually I’ll run into an internal (or external) roadblock.  For me, that usually means that I don’t know how to proceed or that I’ve lost confidence in the validity of the project.
  3. Brick WallRather than bash my head against a wall, I’ve found that it’s better for me to simply stop working on the project that has me frustrated and set it aside to quietly “ferment” while I tackle something else.
  4. Since I have amassed a good quantity and variety of work in various stages of completion, this is when I take up a writing project that I had previously set aside.  In 9 cases out of 10, the magic of fermentation has done its work and what had seemed an insurmountable problem has been reduced to a manageable scale.
  5. The whole thing is a cycle.  While I’m working on one writing project, others are fermenting.  It seems so obvious, doesn’t it?  But when you’re stuck (or at least when I’m stuck) it’s not always easy to remember that you don’t have to sit there in misery.  You can move on and come back later.

Fermenting.  It’s not just for yogurt!.




Writing and the Art of Fermentation (Part I)

Over the past ten years, I’ve written five full-length plays, four short plays, one full-length historic reenactment, one full-length film treatment, two books of short fiction and one published memoir. Spelled out, it seems a respectable list, but on those days when writing is the last thing I’m able to manage, I grow critical for not getting to “it.”


But if I’m willing to take a deep breath and step away from self blame, I begin to see that what looks to me like inactivity often serves a function; the function of “fermentation.”  Just as with making sauerkraut or yogurt or wine, fermentation is an essential component of my creative process.

My fermentation has two stages.  The first one often comes on early.  Once an idea for a story or play begins to take shape, I’ll outline what I think the plot could be, what form it should take (short story, play, etc.) who the characters are, the location . . . the essentials.  If research is required, I’ll start that, too.  If the shape of the writing project is clear and I’m satisfied, then I can work steadily at it for days or weeks at a time.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of the writing process.

But often, after that initial burst of enthusiasm and creativity, I’ll run into what feels like a brick wall.  Nothing makes sense . . . what had recently felt exciting now feels uninspired and flaccid.  Rather than toss the project, this is the time for me to launch the first period of fermentation.

(To be continued)


Why Writers Don’t Write (Part 1)

My day lay ahead with nothing on my agenda except to write.  I hadn’t had a day like this in weeks and I was energized to imagine how much I’d accomplish.  Of course there was that service appointment with the Comcast technician who would arrive before noon and determine why the closed captioning on our TV wasn’t working.  No problem there.  He wouldn’t need me for anything except to open the front door and let him see that I’m over 18.

When the tech didn’t arrive by 11:45, I stopped work and called Comcast.  “Precious,” the woman who took my call, quickly disabused me of my assumption that I had an appointment.  This, despite what “Ronald,” the Comcast technician with whom I had spent over an hour the day before in an on-line chat had told me about needing be sure that somebody over the age of 18 would be home between 8:00 AM and 12 noon when he finally determined that he couldn’t diagnose the problem, had told me.   What was scheduled, “Precious” assured me, was a “call” from a technician, between the hours of 8:00 AM and 12 noon, who would tell me how to diagnose and fix the problem myself.

“I haven’t gotten that, either,” I whined.  It was noon.
“We’re talking, aren’t we?” countered “Precious.”
“But I called you!”
“What difference does that make?”

I swallowed my anger and conceded her point.  We needed closed captioning.

After an hour of pressing button-after-button on the remote, turning the cable box off and on, and continuously reassuring “Precious” that nothing had changed, she announced that my only hope was to disconnect the cable box and drive it to the Comcast Store in Santa Rosa where I could swap it for a new one.

A “new one!”

The prospect of any new piece of electronic gadgetry (even something as mundane as a cable box)  hit me like an infusion of dopamine and quickly squelched any residual notions of getting back to work on writing my piece about 19th century Russians.  I shut down the laptop and asked Luisa if she wanted to go for a ride.  I then proceed to prepare to sever the existing cable box from the jumble of wires that somehow deliver sound and pictures.  I disconnected the box from the wall-mounted TV, from the Comcast modem, from the Apple TV, from the Blue Ray player, from the Sony receiver and from the sound bar.  I photographed the back of my “old” cable box and labeled every one of the hydra-like tangle of wires. We were off to Comcast!   (to be continued)