Talk with Charity Singleton Craig, “On Being a Writer,” part 3

Today’s interview focuses on Charity Singleton Craig. Note: The day after I spoke with Charity, she started her own YouTube series, ‘Five Authors On Being a Writer.’ So, dear writers, always leave some time to fact check before you publish because there’s no other way to know what you should’ve asked, if you’d only known. 

Megan: In November 15 workshop in Round Rock, Texas, in the section on ‘Priorities of the Writing Life,’ you talked about how we need to find ‘expansion joints,’ ways to expand and/or contract under pressure and leave room for writing. How do you do that?

Charity: That’s part of my new method for organizing my day. I have a little magnetic board and these little strips of paper that represent the kinds of things I want to do during the day — ongoing clients — but I also put in things like admin, communications. I seriously hope I don’t take an hour to do that every day, but I mark out an hour to do that every day. That becomes an expansion joint because maybe I get started 15 minutes late, or I have an unexpected phone call.

Today, I was on a project and had to work an extra half an hour, so that’s an expansion joint. I plan an hour for lunch. If I don’t take that long, it’s an expansion joint. I have a list. If [my time] is free, I work on that stuff.

I’m trying to do better about giving myself extra time for deadlines. Last year I missed a lot of deadlines, but I didn’t leave enough time. I didn’t give myself room for error. Giving yourself room for creative mishaps, like I forget that I’m gonna get tired creatively, so I need to give myself room that I don’t have to be producing all the time. I’m trying to figure that out in my schedule, too. A really good rhythm.

That and can I switch gears creatively every hour? I don’t know if that’s realistic. I agree that I can’t wait for the Muse or whatever, but giving myself space to not be at my best. And maybe the expansion joint is I add in another day of rewriting so I have time to tidy up things that didn’t work.

Megan: I just discovered your YouTube videos with Ann, ‘On Being a Writer (for groups).’  How did you decide on the 3-minute format, one she asks you, then vice versa.

Charity: We were talking with someone who was planning to use our book in his writing group and he’s out of state. He invited us to his writing group, and we joked ‘We should come!’ and then we decided, ‘What if we did videos?’

We decided to keep them short because we had writers groups in mind when we first did them, although anyone could use them. If this is going to be in a writing group, we had in mind that they’d already have read the chapter and they were ready to discuss. When we’re in a group, people learn a little bit from us and a lot from each other, so we didn’t want to take too much time.

We also didn’t want to rewrite another book. If it was an hour video on the exact same topic, we would basically have been rewriting the book, and we wanted the book to stand. We thought asking each other questions might be a good model.

Megan: You told me that writing a book about the writing life is a little like writing a book about parenting or marriage — there are so many ways to be a good writer or a good mom or a good wife.

Charity: Even though I am seeing how different it is, I’ve had people say how much they agree. But maybe the differences are in emphasis.

Like for instance, you [Megan] aren’t sending out a lot of work, but that might be more important in my [Charity’s] writing life right now. There are variations on those themes.

Since the book’s come out, I’ve gotten a lot of requests from newer writers or people who want to be writers who don’t know where to go or how to move ahead. That seems to be very common among writers who are newer at this. I think that the kinds of conversations I have are typically people who tell me the ways in which something in the book connected with their lives.

Megan: I’m thinking about when you posted #ShowUsYourSpace on Facebook, and you got all kinds of photos that corresponded to each person’s writing personality.

Charity: #ShowUsYourSpace definitely revealed a lot. It was interesting how elaborate some of the writing spaces were. I had a wonderful office when I lived by myself, and I would end up writing on the couch a lot. Now I have a very hard time doing that. If I wrote the book at a different time, the chapters might have been very different. Now I’m very tied to my space. I tried working at Panera but I didn’t like it because I’ve gotten used to working at home by myself.

Megan: What is your favorite kind of writing to do?

Charity: Essays. It means so many different things to different people. I often tell people I write personal essays, but I usually write essays from my own perspective, so I don’t hesitate to include myself in the essay, but I enjoy the weaving process of taking lots of different cultural artifacts and snippets of real life and reflections after the fact and weaving them into something new. I do write some truly personal, first-person story-type things, but my favorite is the longer-form [essay], drawing in outside stuff and that kind of thing.

Comments

  1. My last interview question is usually “Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have?”

  2. That idea of expansion joints is brilliant! Charity’s always “noticing” and pulling that into her conversations and essays. Thanks for sharing her thoughts!