I have just finished a spate of travel–five states in eight days–to Kansas, Wisconsin, Arizona, California, and Colorado. Settling down to write again has me thinking about writing routines, writing materials, and writing rituals, all of which require a re-start after interruption.
For Emilie Loring, as for me, concentration was essential to composition; every competing thought was a challenge. Sometimes, she wrote an entire book in Boston during the winter season. She started other books at her summer home in Blue Hill and finished them when she returned to Boston in the fall. She always met her deadlines.
She sat down before the typewriter and resolutely kept her eyes from the window, that alluring window, beyond which the sea sparkled and beckoned, and outboards, scooting round the harbor like a flock of prehistoric waterfowl tempted her to join them. She opened her manuscript at the page where the story had stuck, read it, went back three chapters and read up to it again. The characters just wouldn’t carry on. Sheer terror stopped her heart. “Am I all through?” she asked herself. “Has my imagination petered out? Can’t I write any more—ever?”
Emilie Loring, Give Me One Summer
One hundred years apart, our fundamental process is really the same. I write in pen on a lined tablet, then type my drafts on a laptop, print them on paper, and make handwritten corrections. Emilie wrote initial drafts in pencil and started each morning with two dozen sharpened points. She wrote in longhand, typed the draft on a typewriter (or her typist did), and then wrote corrections in the margins.
“…a book should be published as it comes hot from the typewriter–stories like mine, I mean.” Emilie Loring
I smile a little at posed photos of Emilie Loring for her public, because she’s not wearing her spectacles. She, like I, needed reading glasses, and without them, her handwriting had to be nearly an inch tall for her to read it.
“Because I had left my spectacles upstairs I read a recipe wrong, with the result that at the end of four hours, when I wanted to serve it, I had a gently flowing rivulet in place of the firm jelly I expected.” Emilie Loring (as Josephine Story), For the Comfort of the Family: A Vacation Experiment
I’ve wondered about how Emilie Loring arranged and used her reference materials. She read newspapers to get ideas for her thirty novels. My guess is that she did her reading in the evenings and let ideas percolate into her thoughts for the next day’s writing. Did she take notes? Did ideas occur to her in the night that she had to write down before morning?
I will unpack my reference materials today, moved in boxes from one state to the next, fearful of the chance accident that could jeopardize them. I write from a detailed outline, but I often notice something additional in the original reference as I compose. Even when I don’t, I have footnotes to write, and I’d be sunk, if I let the prose and the reference get too far separated.
Writing fiction is different from writing biography. Emilie’s task was primarily an exercise of imagination and creativity, paired with attention to structure and form. Mine is the analysis and synthesis of vast quantities of material from which I extract the story and, only then, build a narrative.
I allowed myself a measure of creativity in her biography’s structure. Emilie came from a dramatic family, so I wrote her biography in five acts and a postlude. In each act, she goes by a different name: Bessie Baker in childhood, Mrs. Victor J. Loring, “Mother,” Josephine Story when she begins writing, and finally, Emilie Loring, the famous novelist. The postlude deals with the twenty ghost-written books, their short-term effect on her reputation, and her lasting legacy.
We owe a different duty to truth. Emilie was free to make up anything she liked. I researched the smallest detail, committed to writing only that which I could verify with reliable sources. (See: Telling the Truth, or When’s Your Book Going to be Done, Part I) As she walks down the aisle on her wedding day, I am confident describing:
The sun had already set, and a half moon was aloft, when guests entered the sanctuary on Boylston Street, sweeping the fair, evening breeze with them into the cozy brownstone. Festoons of yellow chrysanthemums spiced the air and brightened stately rows of black walnut pews. Palms and ferns provided a lush backdrop for more, sunny blossoms at the chancel rail.
Happy Landings: The Life Behind Emilie Loring’s Stories
I’ve gotten to know Emilie Loring very well in fifteen years of research, and I am on solid ground making some conclusions about her, but I like to let her speak for herself. Mine is the voice of the biographer and historian. She speaks with authority about how she thought and felt, and her skill in turning a phrase invites new readers.
When you’re in it for the long haul, writing requires good health and judicious breaks to clear your head and let new ideas in. In Maine, I go to the shore, as Emilie did. If it doesn’t snow in Colorado today, I’ll take a walk by the nearest body of water, a creek at the end of my street.
Then, I’ll be back at work–correcting, adding, refining–and just see my pen fly!
Her cheeks burned, her fingers flew as they kept pace with the thoughts that flooded her mind. The keys changed tempo with the mood of her story. Once she held her breath as she touched them as softly as if she heard cautious footsteps. Once she laughed. She stopped to brush fingers across her wet lashes. Once she frowned.
… She typed on and on until tired, but triumphant, she curled up in the wicker chair and read aloud what she had written.
Emilie Loring, Give Me One Summer