Sibella Giorello grew up in the mountains of Alaska
admiring the beauty and nature that surrounded her. She majored in geology
at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts hoping to learn more about
the landscape she loved back home. From there Sibella followed a winding
path, much like the motorcycle ride she took across the country, which
led to her true love, journalism.
writing for rock-n-roll magazine and earned a journalism degree from the University of Washington before heading south
to the land of great stories. In Virginia, Sibella became a features
writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It was there she also met her
husband and would hear Jesus whispering her name at a tent revival.
way to keep her love of story-telling alive while staying at home with
her young sons. As a journalist and author, her stories have won state
and national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. The Stones Cry Out, the first Raleigh Harmon novel, won a Christy award
for debut novel in 2008. Sibella now lives in Washington state with her
husband and sons.
Learn more about the Raleigh Harmon series here.
Like most women writers, I’ve got a long list of obligations that
bump writing into last place.
Writing — and getting a haircut. Both tied for last place.
First place goes to wife and mom, quickly followed by cook/chauffeur/maid/
Marine Corps drill instructor.
I’m not complaining because despite the totem pole that puts writing
at ground level, I managed to publish five novels in about as many years.
Remember what Ginger Rogers said about doing everything Fred Astaire
did only backwards and in high heels?
And she was the better dancer for it.
The same goes with women writers. We learn field-tested tactics. One
of my best writing strategies was rising before dawn and churning
out as many words as possible before people (read: guys) started asking
about breakfast and clean socks.
That system worked. And it’s still my daily routine.
But recently I discovered another powerful tactic: Hotels.
With blessings from my sainted husband and sons, I booked a room at
a favorite hotel ninety-minutes from home. The distance seemed ideal:
Far enough to get away, close enough that if the whole experiment blew
up I could zip home and re-set the alarm clock for 4 a.m.
But the experiment worked.
In four days of hotel writing, I produced with 40,000 words.
That number is not a typo. I double-and-triple checked the word-count,
since that’s normally what I produce in one month. This will come as
a huge shock to everyone everywhere, but your productivity really rises
when you’re not doing laundry, cooking, or yelling to the second floor,
“Your lacrosse uniform is in the second drawer on the left side in the other bureau!”
If you need to get some words on the page, I highly recommend getting
away to write — but would add some caveats. Looking back, these things
were crucial for the trip’s success:
- Pick some place that’s nice but boring. For
one thing, your subconscious can relax with safety and familiarity.
For another, you’re less tempted to shop or ride roller coasters.
- Don’t stay at a dump even if you’re trying to save money. That plan will probably backfire
because fear ruins creativity. What you want is a place where you are
encouraged to feel pleasantly irresponsible for what goes on outside
your hotel room.
- Upon arrival, kick the inner nag to the curb. Self-doubt is creative suicide. You’re a writer–don’t doubt it. Say it loud, say it proud, and refuse to listen
to any interior criticisms.
- When it comes to your productivity, don’t be
picky. How did 40,000 words appear in four days? I lowered the bar. My mission wasn’t to produce stellar prose. It was to
produce a story—warts and all—and return home for editing. Don’t judge your work. Just write.
- Place that “Do
sign on the doorknob and don’t remove it until you check-out. Yes, I know, after
three days the maids were looking at me like I was the Unibomber’s sister.
But other than fresh towels, that room was for reserved for uninterrupted
time pacing the carpet, talking out loud to myself and hammering on
- Stock the in-room fridge with your favorite foods. Mine are black tea
and brie. Whatever snacks help you write, eat them. Now is not the time
to get healthy. You’re not visiting a spa; you’re in writing boot camp.
- End each day with a reward. It will help motivate you for the
next day’s work. After writing for 12 hours, I would go a long run followed
by a glorious dinner and glass of red wine at a restaurant that was
all but deserted by the time I arrived. This last part was crucial because
. . . .
- You want to stay away from people. Writer Saul Bellow used to come into my
aunt’s restaurant in Chicago. He was always by himself. I used to think
he was lonely, but now that I’m a novelist, I understand. Bellow already
had too much company — inside his head. As a fiction writer you carry around a waking dream and the nice people
who feel like chatting can kill it. Be polite, but be firm. No new friends.
You have good work to do.
- If you get claustrophobic, move around the
place. Mezzanines, balconies, poolside if you can write amid noise. Ask the front desk about a quiet spot. I
found a cubby on the mezzanine where nobody could see me but I could
see them. Ideal for describing characters taken from real life.
- Pray. Really, this point should be at the top and
of the list. We’re not in charge of our circumstances (though, like
characters in novels, we tend to believe otherwise). Don’t be afraid
to ask for divine guidance. You have a lot to say and limited time to
say it. And when all else fails, there’s usually a Gideon’s in the bedside drawer.