She found herself in Seattle 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.
Sibella started writing about Raleigh Harmon as a 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.
Her latest release is The Stars Shine Bright. 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 Not Disturb” 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 the keyboard.
- 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 bottom 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.