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How I Write, by Beth Kaplan

This is what happens to me when I sit down in the morning, after breakfast and coffee, to write: if I’m not in the middle of a project, I cast about for ideas.  I try to relax and think, okay, what matters most right now? What should I tell about?  Some important anecdote?  No, some lesson.  Usually, it’s a lesson – life is about learning to relax; let your children go; diaries are important.  I start to formulate a story about how I used to be in a mess but fixed it, whatever it is. 


Then I realise – sometimes after the story is well underway – no, stories shouldn’t be lessons.  So I rethink.  But by now something has interrupted – for example, right there as I was writing “lessons”, my tenant came into the kitchen practically on top of me and started doing distracting things, so I had to close the computer and walk away till he was gone.  There’s a phone call, there’s email, someone’s at the door – Jean-Marc as he’s walking by stops in to say hello, Dave appears in the garden and needs me to consult with him, the homeless guy wants work – the mail arrives and there’s something to be followed up or a New Yorker to flip through, just flip through to see what’s in it, mind, I won’t stop to read it now because I’m working.  But first there’s laundry to put in, dishes to wash, groceries to get, one of the kids calls, my mother calls and talks for almost an hour, the cat has peed on the carpet, the raccoons have scattered garbage all over the yard, plants need to be watered and pruned, the garden and birdfeeder need tending, some bit of officialdom needs to be seen to, Wayson calls and says let’s have lunch. Not today thanks, I say, I’m working. I eat a bit more, wash, get dressed – while getting dressed, become preoccupied with a skirt – does it need to be hemmed? Let’s pin it and look.  This pair of beads that should be shortened, who does that, let’s look in the Yellow Pages – and mmm, should do more laundry, need underwear, or maybe I should buy some, put it on my list, where’s the list?  These shoes need to be stretched, this sock drawer needs to be organised, that lightbulb is burned out, find the list.  And while we’re at it, let’s take the tweezers to the facial hairs and do a thorough job, fifteen minutes of close inspection.  And as I pass by the kitchen table there are two newspapers waiting to be read, the comics at least.  More coffee.  A snack involving yogurt.  Check TV guide – nothing on tonight, as always.


And let’s not forget Google and Safari, things to look up – flights to price and book, names to check on, information to seek, the New York Times always interesting and informative. Students emailing work that needs to be read and often edited.  Then back to creative work.  Where was I?  Oh yes, what’s meaningful now?  What stories do I love to tell friends?  A story about my past – being in the theatre.  What it was like to be in the theatre, that’s a good story.  I pick up the pen to start.  But – I have diaries, tons of diaries. Shouldn’t I check in the diaries first?  There will be such valuable research material in there, authentic, vibrant.  I’ll just check in the diaries.  Where are they, the ones for my acting life?  Let’s look.  Hmm, here are ones about the kids, that’s another important story.  Oh my God, I’d forgotten how lonely those days were.  Divorce, the worst thing … No, theatre, we’re looking for …


It’s noon, time to go to the Y.  Quick, jump on the bike, get to the Y, do the class, shower, on the way home drop into Doubletake, the secondhand store around the corner, right on the way.  Get home, if I’ve bought something at Doubletake try it on, make and eat lunch.  Listen to messages.  My mother, definitely now if not before.  The kids.  A good friend needs a hand, needs advice, has an idea about tonight. 


Sit down again.  Just do it.  An idea comes, and a line.  Two lines – a paragraph.  Two paragraphs, and it’s time to go back and fiddle with them, make them better.  Half an hour writing the two paragraphs, and half an hour to rewrite them until they flow well.  I will only realise later that they’re dull – that when I sit to write I lose my natural, energetic, lively voice and turn into someone pedantic and stiff.  I suck the juice out of my own material.  I read other writers endlessly, admire their natural voices and flow, but when I sit to write, I turn into someone boring.  


And now it’s five sharp – time for the first glass of wine.

P.S. I’m exaggerating, of course.  But you get the general idea.      



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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