Amy O'Neill Houck: October's featured author

One of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, has a studio in a small building next to his house. He goes to write in this room that has no internet. I can see the appeal of an un-connected workspace. Connectivity is so much a part of our lives. As writers, though, we need mental space to let our own thoughts ferment and form. Too much input in any form and we won’t have space for our own ideas. In a world of constant connection, how do we break away and give our brains space to expand?

I know about Neil Gaiman’s studio because I follow him on Twitter. He is a very connected person. He writes a blog, and he uses Twitter actively. He interacts with his readers and with other artists via the Internet. Maybe connectivity doesn’t have to simply be a distraction. Maybe sometimes a little distraction is just what’s needed.

On Mondays and Fridays I set aside time to write. The rest of the week, I may grab a few moments here and there, but I bookend the workweek with more focused writing time. Today, a Monday, it’s almost two-o’clock and I’ve just finally sat down to write my first sentence. I had a lovely spot to work in my house. I had quiet. I made tea. I had chocolate. I couldn’t muster the focus. It’s as if I didn’t have enough distraction. So, I left. It was a gorgeous fall day, and on my walk to town ideas for the project I’m working on started to bubble up. I stopped to write at a new café not far from my house. Unfortunately, it has wifi.

After a cup of tea, I took a break from writing to compliment this new coffee shop on Facebook. While I was there, I noticed a blog post from Alaskan playwright Arlitia Jones. [] It was a post about getting down to writing—and about writing no matter what you’re producing. It turned out to be the inspiration I needed to close that Facebook tab and keep going.
I’ve had a hard time focusing on my own writing lately and I could make a gazillion excuses, but instead, I want to share a little bit about which parts of our online community have helped kick-start me. 
  • Erin Hollowell’s Being Poetry is like small snatches of writerly conversation. She often offers a poem, and a bit of what’s happening in her life as a writer. []
  • I follow Dinty Moore on Facebook. He’s the editor of Brevity, the online journal of short creative nonfiction and he often posts quotes from writers. They’re just the sort of thing that make you say, “aha,” and then jump off the internet to write.
  • I use my inbox. I am subscribed to a few newsletters that help to start my writing day. I find that getting things to read via e-mail without going on the web can prevent me from starting that fateful wander through the pages and links that can use up precious time. Poems and prompts are some of my favorite things to read before writing. Here are the ones I like best:
Once I get these daily doses of inspiration, I need to force myself to disconnect for the few hours I have available as writing time. I’m still working on the balance needed to take advantage of the community and inspiration offered without loosing creative time and energy.  As solitary writers, we naturally reach out to one another. Maybe even more so here in Alaska than elsewhere. How do you strike a balance between connectedness and community and creating time and space? I’d love to start a conversation in the comments.

Amy O’Neill Houck, our guest blogger for October, recently finished her MFA in creative nonfiction at UAA. She lives in Juneau, and occasionally writes feature stories for The Juneau Empire and The Capital City Weekly. Amy works at Perseverance Theatre, and in her off hours, she teaches ukulele and knitting. Usually not at the same time.

7 thoughts on “Amy O'Neill Houck: October's featured author”

  1. I used to write full time in the winter after a spring, summer, and fall working outside in the wind and weather. Until winter I wouldn't write at all because I had no time to focus. Then by the time I could finally sit down to write in winter, I was so thirsty for it nothing could stop me from being at that writing desk all day.
    I'm somewhat a person of extremes, I guess.
    My work life is different now and I'm finding the change has radically changed my writing time and commitment, and not for the better.

    1. I think it would be great to have the freedom to "binge-write" like folks do at retreats, or like you used to do in the winter… I may have to settle for trucking myself into that retreat mindset instead.

  2. Erin Coughlin Hollowell

    Thanks Amy for the shout-out for Being Poetry. I started the blog because I felt disconnected from other writers and it has been a wonderful way to build friendships and reach out.

    I've got the same issues with needing to disconnect in order to write. Poets are a little luckier, we can usually accomplish some things via hand in a notebook.

    I wish I had Neil Gaiman's writing studio… so beautiful.


    1. Amy O'Neill Houck

      Hi Erin, I agree about a notebook, it helps to sever that connection… and I think I might try to write completely offline with pen and paper more often. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    I'm at a retreat, and still goofing off, checking email too often, going onto FB a little, not using the Freedom blocking software I actually use at home. But that's because I know in a 16 hour or so day of writing (broken into chunks with endless eating breaks, staying up very late) there is time to goof a little. It's harder at home when you really only have 2 or 3 hours. My lesson for myself, which I wish I could transport back in time to tell myself firmly years ago: DO go to retreats. Even if it's just a hotel or friend's borrowed house or something you have to pay for. I've said this a lot on 49W but it's only because I know how hard it is to give oneself permission.

  4. I am a master at distraction…it was great to read your piece and be reminded that this isn't a singular affliction! Looking forward to checking out the links you provided as well, thanks Amy.

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