Me With George Washington, New Orleans, September 19, 1998. Photo: Shelley Cochran.

October 1998


Where and When To Write

As I write this month's site update, I am horrifically jet-lagged. I've been back for not quite twenty-four hours from a weekend trip to France, a trip which involved a great deal of fine eating, wine drinking, and the purchase of fashionable clothing.

I also bought a couple of drawings by a young female artist, Pascale Kuttner. Pascale would be pleased to know that the U.S. Customs Service values her even more highly than she values herself; the nice agent refused to believe the modest price I'd paid for the drawings and slapped me with an import duty.

Anyway, this is all leading up to is a discussion about where and when to write. Authors always seem to complain that they don't have enough time to work, but if you want time, you can find it.

I work everywhere, and often go so far as to note the circumstances - time, place, mood, background noise - in the little Japanese notebooks I use for first drafts. (Collectors of the future, please note!)

Here, for example, is an entry about writing on Chapter 3 of Five George Washingtons:

9/25/98. Rue de Rivoli, Paris, in the shelter of the Louvre arcade. I'm on my way to Samaritane [a department store], but it's pouring and I have on new suede shoes. Traffic noises, sound of rain and tourists. Sitting on concrete step, getting chilly fast. Lecherous Germans. Other tourists asking me for directions. Have to go to bathroom. Rain is letting up a bit, but not enough to make it safe for my shoes.


So, see, you really CAN write anywhere, under nearly any circumstances. I've worked on subway trains, in planes, and inside automobiles. I've made notes walking down the streets and in restaurants, which invariably makes people ask if I'm marking down something about them.

I've written notes on bank receipts, in the margins of newspapers, and on the back of my Historical Society membership card; on the beach, in the line at the grocery store, and at the Bronx Zoo.

What DOES take time is sticking all those thoughts together, trying to get a coherant overview of all you're trying to say. I'm going to start working on that, as soon as I drop off my vacation laundry, pick up my vacation photos, restock the refrigerator, and answer the eight million e-mails and telephone messages I got while I was gone.