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I Do Some of My Best Writing When I’m Not Writing

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I remember I was reading a book when I thought of the resolution to my latest novel. The ending for one of my short stories came to me while I sat on a weight bench with a pair of dumbbells in my hands.[1] Another one occurred while standing in line for the lav on a cross-country flight.

I’ve had many such writerly epiphanies, and almost none of them happened while sitting at the keyboard. Some have come while in the car (bad news for other drivers), others in the shower or while walking Henry; almost always when it’s impossible to write them down in those situations, and so I wind up voicing the idea over and over so I don’t forget, sometimes in public until I get home, which leads me to believe that many of the street people one notices repeating nonsense are in fact writers who got immersed in a plot problem and were never able to get back to their keyboards in time.

walking-away_3One of the most problematic aspects of writing is the instrument itself—the laptop in my and many writers’ cases. I become connected, telepathically, to it, focused on the monitor, on the words I’ve already written and which I read and reread until (hopefully) the phrase that logically follows occurs. That works fine (especially for blog writing), but I’ve found that when I tear myself away from the hypnosis of the screen, the ideas that follow seem more creative. It’s often more productive if I close the clamshell and do some laundry[2] or head out to do yard work.

Walking away from the computer offers an opportunity to remain focused on the story but engage it from another perspective, without the text on the screen forcing the direction of the writing, and that’s when new solutions and tangents often emerge.

Poet Mary Ruefle[3] talks about writers needing to waste time, and makes it sound almost mandatory if one is to produce the kind of work that has meaning. She’s being slightly facetious, because I doubt she meant writers should abandon a story in favor of a rousing game of Grand Theft Auto. But in our world of 24/7 connectivity it’s more important than ever to occasionally break the hold of our devices, to disengage from the cloud and let the mind put the story, or the world, back into sense. I’d be curious to know whether other writers take creative breaks or stay glued to their monitors trying to work through writing roadblocks.

[1] The symbolism of this scene is not lost on me.

[2] Yes, I’m a sensitive, share the chores, New Age guy, which I try to balance with a little hangin’ and bangin’ in the weight room.

[3] I know I keep referencing her book, but it really is an excellent read, especially for writers.

Morning News

8/1/15: Tahoma Literary Review Volume 2, Issue 2 is now available. Great poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as always. You can purchase a copy on Amazon, or download an e-file on our site.

11/2/14: Tahoma Literary Review co-Publisher Kelly Davio and I will present "The Literary Magazine Goes Digital" at the Northwest Bookfest in Kirkland, WA on Sunday, Nov. 2. There's still time to attend the conference, which runs Nov. 1-2 and includes two days of intense workshops (and lunch is included). You can register on their web site.

09/23/14: My story "How to Live at a Hotel" received an Honorable Mention in the Stoneslide Corrective Fiction Contest. Publisher Christopher Wachlin said he would also like to run it in an upcoming issue of Stoneslide .

08/19/14: Minneapolis, here we come. My friend Lori A. May's panel proposal for The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference has been accepted, so she and I and three other writers will present "Literary Citizenship: It’s Not About You," in April, 2015.

03/31/14: My story, "Plunge," is live at Stoneslide Corrective. They're a cool new journal and book publisher. I used a pseudonym for this one, for future marketing considerations, as they say.

02/28/14: I'll be moderating a panel titled "Stoking the Fire," about finding the writing life that's best for you, at the annual AWP conference on Feb. 28.

10/03/13: Here come da judge! I've been named final judge for the Adult Fiction category of the Detroit Working Writers 2014 conference. I'm excited, because judging the Poetry category will be US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey! Just being mentioned in the same sentence with her is an honor.

9/24/13: Woodward Press co-publisher Dora Badger and I will present a discussion on Self Publishing Options at the annual Rochester Writers Conference on Saturday, October 5 at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Registration is still open for the event, so if you're in the area please join us.

8/1/13: The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) has accepted my panel proposal for the 2014 annual conference in Seattle. "Stoking the Fire: Maintaining the Passion for Writing When Success Eludes" will feature co-presenters Kobbie Alamo, Teri Carter and Q. Lindsey Barrett.

“Curtain Calls,” Available Now

Curtain Calls: A Novel of The Great War is my new book released through Woodward Press. The novel follows three American performers who travel to Paris in the summer of 1914, where they become caught in the passions and politics of a nation on the brink of war. Separated by events, they fall in with factions for and against the conflict, and move ever deeper into a mysterious underground world of political intrigues.

The Face Maker and other stories of obsession is my collection of short stories out now from Woodward Press. Kelly Davio, author of Burn This House, says. "In stories that range effortlessly across time period and place, Joe Ponepinto delivers the kind of masculine character we crave in literary fiction; these characters wrestle with the most essential questions of morality, and they bare-knuckle box with their human frailties." Find it on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Want a signed copy? Email me at jpon (at) thirdreader (dot) com.

For the editing and tutoring services I offer, please see my companion site at Third Reader.

I am the co-Publisher and Fiction Editor of Tahoma Literary Review, a literary journal.

For links to some published stories, go to my Publications page.

Tahoma Literary Review Now Open for Submissions

TLR is officially open for submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. To find out more about this new (paying) literary journal, please visit us at Tahoma Literary Review.

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