Terrie Leigh Relf: What are your daily writing and creative rituals? How do you prepare your space for these activities?
G.O. Clark: At age 69, just getting out of bed these days is a creative ritual. That aside, once I’ve got some oatmeal and coffee in me, I sit at my keyboard (6 year old Dell pc, Windows Vista, medium slow DSL connection), and go through my second ritual of the morning: Email, Facebook, Locus online, and a few other writer-related sites. If I’m lucky enough to have emails related to my writing (positive or negative – either kind reassure me I still exist), I deal with them first.
After putting off the real work, I finally do some writing, either typing in a new poem from my spiral notebook (in long hand whenever the inspiration hits) or doing revision on a work in progress. I don’t set a time limit, and ignore the clock. Usually, I quit sometime after noon, unless working on fiction (a first draft), which I keep at until a logical stopping point, say, between scenes. I don’t write enough fiction to miss lunch that often.
A note about fiction: I work on it at all hours, until a first draft is completed. If I put it off too long, I lose the narrative thread. Luckily, my stories run less then 6,000 words on average, so my physical and mental states never deteriorate too much.
As for preparing my space, I turn on my computer, log in, and type. The printer waits nearby, ready to print out the finished poem or story. In some ways, I miss the old typewriter ritual, but not the gallons of Whiteout I had a tendency to use.
TLR: Do you have a “day job” in addition to being a writer? How do you manage your creative time as a result?
GOC: I’ve been retired now for a while, so my former day job, library assistant in a university library, no longer gets in the way. Back when I was working full time, I’d write whenever an idea came to me, either jotting down quick notes at work, or later at night drafts of poems and story notes. When the weekend came, I’d work in the mornings, revising the poems or fleshing out a short story. Back then, I consciously pushed myself to write something each week, whereas now, with a lot of free time on my hands, I procrastinate with the best of them. Strangely enough, I think my output has stayed nearly the same since retiring.
One nice thing about being retired, when I take on a bigger project like putting together a book of poems or short stories, I can channel all my energy towards the writing, editing, etc. without the old 9-to-5 interruption.
TLR: Describe a recent writing and/or creative session in detail.
GOC: Though I’m known more for my poetry, the process of which hasn’t really changed much over the years, I’ll respond to this question with the details of a recent short story writing session.
The story, “The Thaw,” runs about 3200 words, is horror, and took a couple of weeks to finish. My first big mistake in the writing of this story was using the first person. As the story progressed, closing in on an ending, I realized that was a big mistake, and I would have to go back and rewrite what I’d already finished using the third person. This entailed about two-thirds of the first draft.
After procrastinating for the rest of the week, I switched over to writing in the mornings, revised what I’d already written to the third person viewpoint, then picked up where I’d left off and finished a first draft.
After a couple more days of finding anything and everything to do but write, I sat down to revise the story again, this time tightening up the ending (where most of action takes place), and finally running the manuscript through spell check. Then, I set the story aside for a few more days before going back to copyedit it, finding all the typos (I hope), and reading it out loud to the walls to see how it flowed. It flowed okay, and more or less satisfied with the final product, I saved the file and went on to my next project; the first being a nice long nap.
The story is now out there circulating, at a glacial pace no doubt, and I await fame and fortune.
TLR: What tips do you have for other writers? This could be anything from a time-management strategy to an inspirational quote.
GOC: Share your final drafts with others you can trust to be honest with you. I say “final” in the sense that in your mind the work is final, until someone points out the flaws you missed, and you realize the work still needs revision. I think all successful writers have collaborators behind the scenes who read their writing before it makes the usual rounds. Wives, friends, other writers, etc. Reliable sounding boards can be a good thing.
Find your own writing groove and submit your work without letup. One or more editors may reject a poem or story, but then another will eventually accept it and recognize your talent.
A true writer keeps writing right up till the day they die and never gives up. Learn how to live with rejection and criticism, and don’t look back. It took more than two years before my first poem saw print, and even longer for my first short story. Control your demons, and practice patience.
Lastly, if you feel taking writing courses will help you become a writer, then do so. Join a writer’s group, attend night class, work towards a master’s degree. Then, after your schooling comes to and end, reconnect with your inner voice and work the keys till your eyes cross and fingers bleed. A little extreme, I know, but. . .
TLR: Is there anything else about your creative process that you would like to share?
GOC: I think the one thing that bothers me the most when it comes to my writing is the unprofessional attitude of some publishers and editors. For the most part, the ones I deal with are very professional, especially those that have published my work before. It’s the other ones that don’t bother to respond to submissions, answer emails, and “forget” to send payment, whether $$$s or contributor copies. I’ve been at the writing trade now for 35+ years, and though the advent of email etc. has made things easier and somewhat faster, the rate of unprofessional behavior on the part of some publishers and editors has stayed the same. Thus, I “practice patience,” and wish upon them (no names) heaps of burnt barbecue at the Devil’s annual picnic.
TLR: Thank you again for participating! So many readers out there will find your sage words inspiring.
G. O. Clark’s writing has been published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog, Talebones Magazine, Strange Horizons, Space & Time, Halloween Haiku II, A Sea Of Alone: Poems For Alfred Hitchcock, Tales Of The Talisman, Daily SF, Jupiter (GB) and many other publications. He’s the author of eleven poetry collections, the two most recent, Scenes Along the Zombie Highway (2013, Dark Regions Press), and Gravediggers’ Dance (2014, Dark Renaissance Books). His fiction collection, The Saucer Under My Bed & Other Stories, was published by Sam’s Dot Publishing in 2011. He won the Asimov’s Readers Award for poetry in 2001, and has been a repeat Rhysling and Stoker Award nominee. He’s retired and lives in Davis, CA. Visit his website for more information.