Monday, January 3, 2011

James Claffey on Process

I met James Claffey the way a lot of people meet: Facebook.  I put out a call for writers to use my blog and James responded with this incredible peek into his daily writing routine.  I am always curious to know how a fellow writer works and James certainly has an inspiring way to start his day. I want to know about your process, what you need to get yourself in the creative frame of mind.  Leave a comment below!  

On Process ...   James Claffey

These days we live in New Orleans, my wife and I, close by the bayou, where Marie Laveau practiced her dark arts. I’m finishing the last year of my MFA program at LSU in Baton Rouge and we decided we had to live in New Orleans for the last of the program’s three years.
Tuesdays and Thursdays we drive the eighty minutes to the State capital, where I teach a course in undergraduate fiction writing, and she teaches a full load of composition courses and one intro to poetry class. These days are not days devoted to writing. Instead, the other five days of the week are habitual in their unfolding.

Awake at five, the dog is upside down on the bed, feet aloft, her long teeth bared, the occasional twitch of the feet perhaps her dreaming of chasing gophers about the ranch. When I switch on the coffee maker and wait for the final death-gurgle of the brewing water, I realize how lucky I am to be able to look at the sunrise over the rooftops of New Orleans.
This is my view as I attend to my pages in the same black notebook I always use. My predilection for this particular notebook, the precise time, the .05mm nib pen, the familiar coffee mug, is a direct throwback to my childhood, when I was a fastidious, almost-OCD little boy who fretted about having his shirt tucked in, sleeves folded just-so, hair parted exactly in the same place before going out into the wet Dublin streets.
On my way to school the cracks in the pavement used terrify me—knowing that if I trod on a line it meant the morning would be a bad one, probably one with a beating in store, or one where my lunch money would be “borrowed” by Smelly Tobin, because I was too afraid to say no. How I would squirm in my school jumper, the scratchy wool irritating my neck. But I never told my mother.
Now I am older, my wife, Maureen, considers me to be “fastidious.” She means “careful.”  A creature of habit—when I find something I like I buy it in twos so I can have a standby if something happens to the first one. My writing notebooks are uniform—Moleskin, hardcover, 240 pages, lined. At three pages a day this means I complete each one in eighty days, unless I’m sick or otherwise unable to show up to the desk. When I’m done, I date the outside with a white sticker—beginning date to ending date. Maureen makes fun of my process. She uses any sort of notebook or journal, unlined preferably, adding illustrations of me, our dog, my little boy (her stepson) Simon. She is a “go with the flow” outside the lines type of woman. I was crestfallen when recently, Maureen and our friend, Britt, informed me I was categorically, not, a go with the flow type of person (between you and me, I think I already knew!).
So, I write, every morning, in my notebook, stream of consciousness, vomiting my thoughts out, clearing the way for me to work on my book. Does it work? Not always. There are mornings when I chafe against the task and take forever to scribble what I must.
Lately, I’ve migrated to writing in bed, a break from my hard-wired desk routine, a sign I am becoming, maybe not a go with the flow guy, but at least loosening up and breathing a little easier.  The words come easier now, the thoughts flow from the nib, and I watch their progress so I can take the label and stick it to the cover when I’m done.
My morning writing routine sweeps the attic clean long enough to attend to the story—the unfinished novel, my MFA thesis, demands my attention. Chapter by verse, paragraph by peristalsis, my eye roves, picking here and there at the weeds, the self-referential “I” that peppers my text, the weak metaphors, the odd fragmented sentences, the issues that demand a clear head and a tight hold in order to be properly addressed.
I’m excited to make these edits, applying a little spit and polish to the words, my mind purged of the things I worry about—changes to the English Department website, Christmas presents for family back in Ireland, what route to take driving back to California this holiday season, how tall my four-year-old, Simon, will be since we last saw him in August, why my teeth sting for no good reason whatsoever.
And with the slate scrubbed off, the Scrivener file opened to “book,” I hunt and peck my way around the keyboard looking for apt ways to say ordinary things. The novel comes and goes with no rhyme or reason, some days words torrentially spill their way onto the page, and other days they are clogged good and proper. Still, the art is in the showing up.

James Claffey is a writer/educator living with his wife, also a writer and artist, Maureen Foley, in New Orleans, LA.
His website is:

james compass points toward the future; his glass bottom toward the sky; and his bluebird eyes are two wars poignant, flitting for an avocado ranch. a master of french letters, james slipped out of Ireland one night when the moon turned a lonely ball shade of blue. he has never chanced back. his compass points toward the future; his glass’s bottom points toward the sky; and his bluebird eyes are two wars poignant, flitting for an avocado ranch. the moon still dangles beneath like an unused homeland. james’ letters are renown for their firmness and girth of meaning. like an irish elephant, he has not forgotten his many lost loves and he flies close to the rim of the world maintaining a mighty hold on his thick quill pen.

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