Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Kim Wright:
Saturday morning. Like a lot of writers, I’m pretty ritualistic. I write in the morning, and one of my quirks is that I like to do the first draft stuff in public places. There’s something about the kind of white-noise buzz of other people coming and going that soothes me and helps me get in the right head space to write. My favorite place is Café Carolina, especially on weekends when they have these airy, yeasty Belgian waffles.
After putting in a couple of hours at the computer my dog Otis and I go for a walk at a park near my house. I guess my mind continues to ramble while we do because a lot of times any snarls I’ve hit earlier in the morning seem to untangle themselves while we follow our familiar path around the lake. Otis is a rescue dog who was given that name when the local humane group literally found him sitting on a dock, a la Otis Redding, who sang that classic song “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay.” He’s an old soul, nearly Yoda-like in his calm, and I can’t imagine what I ever did without him.
A couple more hours at the desk and then this next part I’m almost ashamed to admit. Every single day of my life – excluding Sundays – I go to my ballroom studio to dance. I took up ballroom dancing two years ago and to call it an obsession is just too anemic of a word. My instructor, Max, is from Siberia and we compete in waltz, tango, foxtrot, and quickstep – you know, all the old dances from the MGM musicals. I’ve always loved those old black and white movies and ballroom is as close as I’m likely to get to recapturing the glamour and romance of that era. Not to mention that it’s pretty hard for a woman of my generation and my temperament to learn how to follow the man’s lead. Note the drop-dead-serious tango face!
Afternoons is also when I take care of the business side of writing – interviews, publicity, working with editors, etc. I like doing the creative stuff in the morning and the more nitpicky things in the afternoon.
There’s a shelf in my home office where I keep the foreign editions of Love in Mid Air. I worked on my novel for eight years and one of the fantasies I privately nursed during all that time was the idea of foreign editions. My parents had an import business, and I traveled to Europe on buying trips with them when I was a teenager. I used to go into the bookstores and wander around looking at all the titles, wondering who the writers were, imagining what it would be like to have your work read in Rotterdam and Pisa and Istanbul. So now I display my foreign editions and they – horrible pun alert – mean the world to me.
On this particular Saturday after writing, dancing, and walking, I went with some friends to see the premiere of a movie called Redneck Roots. It was funny and light and a guy in my writing group was one of the producers. We watched the film and then there was an after party with barbecue, biscuits, and bluegrass. A rainstorm came up and we all fled inside to finish eating. I think my friends and I look like a slightly tipsy Mount Rushmore.
Everyone kids me because I’m such a nerd. By 8 pm on a Saturday night I’m back home in my jammies writing this with a House rerun in the background and Otis snoozing at my feet.
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
- When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson. I love what she does with voice, and the opening twelve pages of this book are just stunning. I was looking for a literary mystery and the owner of a small indie bookstore recommended Atkinson.
2.Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Read everything you write out loud. It’s very hard to catch mistakes in your own writing, whether it’s something minor like a tendency to repeat certain words or major problems like plot holes you could drive a truck through. Reading aloud slows you down and helps you come to the work fresh. It also is a good test of whether or not your writing has a conversational, natural quality. If a sentence is awkward to read out loud, it often means you’ve lost the rhythms of human speech and that sentence would be equally awkward to read silently.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- I don’t really know how unusual this is, but I write my books completely out of sequence. In Love in Mid Air, the first scene I wrote ultimately became the next-to-last chapter in the book, and in the mystery I’m working on now I’m starting with the revelation of the murder. It drives the people in my writing group crazy!
By Kim Wright: