Total risk, freedom, discipline.”
This is Constance Hale’s writing mantra — she has it taped on a cabinet in her home office where she can see it. A journalist and essayist, Constance is also the author of several popular writing guides, including Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch. She loves the flexibility and muscular nature of language.
In her pursuit of the best and freshest word, Constance notes, “I can sit in my studio and write what I’m passionate about forever and forever, but if it’s not going to get published, I’m not going to be happy. I’m not a professional ‘journaler.’ I want to communicate with an audience. You make compromises to get your stuff in front of a reader.”
Whatever the type of writing Constance is tackling, she works to draw on the drama, pacing, and rhythm she learned in dance and theater to give her words punch and vigor. She also finds that setting makes a big difference in the type of writing she does.
When she’s developing a journalistic piece, Constance takes advantage of The Grotto, a writing community in San Francisco that provides office space for writers. “It’s terrific to get that blast of city energy,” she notes. “I go online, check email, read the newspaper or start doing interviews or research. I have all my language and narrative journalism books there. I’m in a more extroverted mode all day long.”
For essay writing or personal narratives that focus on “emotional truth” rather than “factual truth,” Constance adopts a different writing approach. She starts by reading something in bed, generally something literary that’s connected to the writing she’s doing. Then she dons a robe, makes herself some tea, and cocoons in her home writing studio surrounded by her personal library of fiction and poetry. She avoids reading her email or the newspaper. “I stay in the frame of mind I wake up in. I’m still a bit in my dreams. I’m more in my imagination, my memory. I can stay in this place where I’m connected to my subconscious. I’m very much in solitude and holding the world at bay.”
I love the idea that different types of writing call for different writing strategies and settings. The approach Constance uses is intriguing isn’t it? When she’s in journalism mode, she’s feeding off urban energy and other people’s vibe. But when she’s writing something deeper and more personal, she isolates herself and disconnects from the outside world. Maybe there’s a nugget of something here that we can use. Write on!
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