Selected Works

Fiction
Memoir
An updated and revised ebook version of the book originally published in 1999.
Biography
Nonfiction

What a Writer Does When She is Not Writing

July 1, 2011

There is always noise in New York, even on a holiday weekend. But today the noise is mostly in my head. I’m in the city, having just been upstate—a respite—for three days, and returning next week for a short visit, probably the last before my move at the end of July. I’ve been reading a lot, but not writing anything except for the occasional entry into my notebook, and this blog. At least there’s that. Still, I’m uneasy. My head is full of dimensions and lists. What to give away, what to sell, what to buy, when to begin the change of address emails. And the only activity that seems to shift the “moving” thoughts is swimming and poetry. I recite what I have already memorized—I just finished “The Second Coming,” by William Butler Yeats—and am casting around for a new poem. My mother asked me the other day why I am memorizing poems and my answer was: for the pleasure of it and, more specifically, a writer’s pleasure. It’s like tracing. You get to know the poem well, and to study the poet’s choices. Why this word and not another? Why the line break here and not there? What is this poem about?

My private students are on hiatus also, although I’ve had one long manuscript to read for a rendezvous next week. Another former student called yesterday about an academic paper he’s writing that’s been rejected twice. Would I work with him privately? The more manuscripts, the happier I am. Like everyone else, I have to keep the cash flow going, but, as important, studying a manuscript closely keeps my writing muscle supple. While reading, I am also writing. I know exactly what I’ll be working on as soon as I move, and then for months afterward. The only interruption once I’m settled into my new apartment will be the sale of my revised literary murder mystery. Then there will be more “to do” lists—editing, publicity— more poems to memorize, and more laps to swim.

What do writers do when they are not writing? They live their lives, garden, fall in and out of love, swim, memorize poems, have dinner parties, move.