Writing Through Interruption

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

TabletOne 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

Emilie Loring without her spectacles

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?

My Emilie Loring notes

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.

Emilie Loring quotation
Both of us tell her story.

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


6 thoughts on “Writing Through Interruption

  1. I loved reading this post, Patti. I can completely relate to Lissa in Give Me One Summer (I read that page not long ago and it hit me as something I struggle with) Having those moments where you can concentrate only on your writing. It’s not always easy when life gets in the way.
    I can’t imagine researching every detail for so many years, then getting them all to gel together into something historically correct as well as entertaining.
    I write in longhand most of these days, frequently switching pens from colored inks to black depending on what I’m writing or notes I find myself making in the margin. Blog posts are almost always typed though. I wear glasses too (though I can type without if I have to)
    I imagine 15 years of research will have you mighty glad when the biography is finally ready for print. I can’t wait to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am pushing hard toward the end, and yes, I will be mighty glad when I push away from the desk, feeling that I am finished. I use colored inks, too, especially the burgundy, indigo, and purple of my favorite, Pilot G-2 pens. Emilie wrote in pencil, but she used different-colored paper for successive, typed drafts. We’re aligned. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant post today, Patti! Congratulations on the book. I love Give Me One Summer because of the lighthouse. And I go to Colorado all the time!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Someday, someone, in the near future, will write about Patti Bender’s skillful, yet exquisite, analysis and prose, her steadfast dedication, her inquisitive yet scholarly thououghness, and above all, her lovingly engaging rendition of her mentor’s life and work.

    Liked by 1 person

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