An Interview on the Writing Process through COVID-19

GEMINI INK: What role do you think writing plays in life and how is that role revealing itself as you shelter-in-place during this pandemic?

Well, I can only speak for this writer’s life. Writing gives shape to my days and nights, and offers solace and challenge. Without the distraction of putting words on paper (or on a screen), I’m afraid what’s happening now, and what this country has endured over the past few years, would lead me to despair.

GEMINI INK: Do you have any rituals you perform before you get started writing–tics, habits, even special ceremonies? How important is it to you to have a sense of sameness about your writing routine?

I get a cup of coffee. Then a second cup. Then I check my email. Then I waste time on Facebook. Then I usually do 10-30 minutes of freewriting, when I just dump words on paper. Then I feel warmed enough to get started.

GEMINI INK: What is your favorite piece of writing advice, or feel free to offer a thought or suggestion that you feel has helped you write, even on days when the muse seems far away?

I’ve been writing long enough that even on days when the voice in my head says, who are you kidding? You don’t have an iota of talent and never will, I can tell myself that whatever unsatisfying writing I’m producing, is just part of a process I’m in the middle of (or starting, or ending) that will move me closer to work that feels fresh. So, my suggestion is to acknowledge when you’re stuck, and tell yourself that it’s temporary. Just work through it. 

Community is part of the best practices and magic, too. I can’t stress enough how important writers’ groups are, and to have supportive people in your life who push you when you need it. 

GEMINI INK: During these times of shelter-in-place, has your writing routine or habits changed in any way? If they have, can you comment on this? And if they have not, what about your routine is helping you most negotiate this highly unusual time?

I mostly work at home anyway, so my routine hasn’t changed much. The only change I have to get used to is having my husband here all the time. Because I have a place to write in a room that I can close the door on, this new situation hasn’t been particularly fraught.

GEMINI INK: What theme or symbol often emerges in your work? Why? Do you have any new images or themes that are surfacing as you write during this pandemic? Comment on this in any way you would like.

Well, feelings of isolation, of not being seen, are often themes I explore. I was a designer before I started writing, and artists’ worlds fascinate me. I often write about creating—what that feels like in the moment, the privilege of being able to make art. I’ve started a project that deals with all of that. My recent book dealt with those themes as well.

GEMINI INK: Describe your first writing desk. How is this different (or not) from your current writing desk?

My first desk was an artist’s table, the kind with the little wells to put stuff in, on the sides. I also wrote on my dining room table. I’m still writing on an artist’s table, and my dining room table, just different ones. When the desk feels too isolated because it’s upstairs and quiet, I go downstairs and work on the table.

GEMINI INK: Can you name a source you return to for ongoing or periodic creative inspiration?

Visual art, always.

GEMINI INK: Do you have a favorite writing tool?

Yes, the computer. I have atrocious, illegible handwriting that even I can’t read. I do, though, keep several notebooks to scribble ideas in. With the notebook, I use a particular fine-point Sharpie-like pen, that makes me feel like I’m drawing instead of writing.

GEMINI INK: Does good writing result from best practices, magic, or a bit of both? Or does effective writing stem fromsomething else not mentioned here?

Everything you mentioned. You have to be able to clear a space in your head to make good writing happen. If that’s some sort of ritual, some flash of inspiration, well, great. Whatever works. Community is part of the best practices and magic, too. I can’t stress enough how important writers’ groups are, and to have supportive people in your life who push you when you need it. 

GEMINI INK: What is your next project?

Beautiful Raft, my book of persona prose poems about the artist Marc Chagall’s lover and her daughter, was published in October 2019. I had lived with those women in their world for several years, and found it difficult, especially now with everything that’s going on, to refocus. Since then, though, I’ve been trying to pull together ideas for my next project. I think I’ve got something worth exploring now, so I’ve started to focus on that.


Tina Barry‘s workshop Love in the Time of Covid-19 – A Virtual Writing Retreat starts May 19th. Learn more at https://bit.ly/2L9OzDK.

Anisa Onofre

Author Anisa Onofre

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