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October 21, 2010

Julia Alvarez: A Typical Writing Day

Posted by jordana
Julia Avarez, author of
JA.jpgHOW TIA LOLA LEARNED TO TEACH  (released Oct 12th)
and many, many others is with today,
telling us...Nay, showing us, what a typical
day writing looks like. Who else wouldn't
mind spending a nice chunk of a day
writing under a birch tree? Beeeaaauutiful!
A Typical Writing Day
(a) writing sample photo
6:00 am:  Alarm clock rings, I get up, brush my teeth, etc.  Then I do about fifteen to twenty
 minutes of yoga.  I make a cup of coffee and go up to my study that looks out on a little pond and a magnificent maple tree, which has appeared in several of my books.  I put out fresh water for the spirits, to draw the friendly ones to my writing day.  Then, I like to read some poems first thing.  Poetry reminds me what magic a writer can work with just a few words. 
7:30 am:  I take a twenty-minute run.  On my way back, I stop by the barn to do my farm chores, which include feeding and watering the cows, the chickens, the geese, our crazy guinea hen, the rabbits, and our three cats.  Everybody happy?  Great, because now it's time to really start my writing day!
feeding chickens.JPG20101021183536.jpg
(b) feeding the chickens, geese, and guinea hen
8:30 am:  I go to my little secret office.  Nobody knows where it is except for my husband, Bill, and the three women who clean the building.  Shhhhhhhhh, don't tell!  I want to disappear in my little hideout, where I can write without interruption.  I eat my breakfast (usually a roll with OJ) while reading over the hard copy of what I wrote the day before.  Sometimes I feel very excited about where a chapter is going.  Sometimes I feel discouraged.  But the most
 important thing is to keep writing!
10:00 am:  I am tempted to take a break by reading my emails.  Sometimes I give in to that temptation (Booooooo!) and sometimes I don't (Hooooooooooray!!!)  What happens with emails is that they distract me from my story and my characters.  And I know that unless I get my writing done, I'm going to feel undone when the day is over.
Noon:  After sitting indoors for hours, I like to take a walk.  My head clears, and sometimes new and wonderful possibilities occur to me as I'm glancing at the cattails or admiring the weeping willow in a neighbor's yard.  Noon is also a good time to go check on the animals.  I often talk to them about what I'm writing, and they always listen without interrupting.  I confess that on glorious summer days, I take my writing outside, and let the sun and the breeze and the grass and the trees inspire me.
 writing under birchtree.JPG20101021184212.jpg
(c) Writing under the birch tree
12:45 pm or so: Back to work.  I know, this isn't sounding very exciting!  But you know what?  That's the way it should be.  From the outside it looks like that author in sweatpants and T-shirt is a literary version of a couch potato, boooooooo-ring.  But amazing things are going on: Tía Lola is about to get deported. . . .  Miguel is about to get mugged in a subway in New York. . . .  You'll have to read How Tía Lola Learned to Teach to find out what happened.
3:30 pm: I look up at the clock.  Is it already mid afternoon?  On good days I just keep going until it's time to head home for supper (5:30 pm or 6 pm).  But sometimes, in addition to writing, a writer has take care of what I call book biz.  This involves anything from being interviewed on Skype by a book club to answering emails and returning phone calls.  Late afternoon is also a good time to meet with students at Middlebury College where I have a job as writer in residence. 
6:00 pm: Time to go home and make dinner.  First stop is the barn and back pasture to do the evening chores, collect eggs, check everyone's feed, fill up the water barrels, herd the cows up to the barn from the back pasture for a bucketful of feed.  Often in the summer and early fall, Bill and I have to harvest our dinner from the two vegetable gardens and the greenhouse.  We cook dinner together and catch up on each other's stories.  Bill tells me about his patients, about some eye operation he performed, or if he had a day off, he tells me about the animals or what he planted in the back pasture.  I tell him about my characters, what Tía Lola is up to.  Sometimes I read him a page or two from what I wrote that day.  Bill is a great editor, especially if there's anything in the story about farming.  He'll wrinkle up his brow and say, sorry, but you can't have asters blooming in May in Vermont; or, sheep usually lamb in the winter; or, you know you don't really need a rooster to make hens lay eggs. 
After dinner: I like to use this time to read for pleasure.  It reminds me that this is why I write books, so I can give people the same experience that I get from reading.  Sometimes, when I am fast at work on a writing project, this is the time I use to do reading that gives me some background I need for what I'll be writing tomorrow.
After sunset: Once it's dark, it's time to go up to the barn and lock up the chickens, make sure everyone's got enough feed and water for the night.  I love going up the hill to the barn, often just using the moon and stars to light my way. 
9:30 pm: We're early-to-bed people, which fits just fine with our farmer neighbors, who keep "farm hours."  Often, when I wake up at 6 am, I can see the lights are already on over at Tom and Lisa's sheep barns.  When people say to me, Wow!  You spend seven, eight hours a day writing?  I think, big deal.  My farmer neighbors work 24/7, 365 days a year, as they can't take a holiday from feeding their animals, milking their cows, cleaning their barns out. 
Often, when I'm working on a book, I even take my characters to bed with me.  Yes, that's true: even when I am sleeping, I am writing.  Sometimes, my dreams help me figure out a question I have about the writing.  Or if Bill is traveling, I feel less alone with Tía Lola and Miguel and Juanita keeping me company.
asleep with books.JPG20101021184324.jpg
(d) sleeping with books
It's time to say goodnight.  I better go to bed so that I can be fresh and rested for the long, exciting day at the writing desk tomorrow.  

Photographs courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner
© 2010 by Julia Alvarez