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A Writing Life

I started writing newspaper columns in 2001 when I was a librarian at the Peterborough Town Library in New Hampshire. All four professional librarians on staff there shared the writing task and I was assigned every third week of the month. I joyfully wrote about children’s books and programs that we offered to the youth of Peterborough. Sometimes, I volunteered for an additional week because it was the part of my job that I loved best.

In January 2009, shortly after I came to Norwood as library director, I asked the Norwood Bulletin if I could write a weekly column. They were happy to oblige and the From the Library column began. Within a few months, I realized I was burning out quickly by writing every week, especially when I was too busy to write but still had a deadline to meet.

And so, Morrill Memorial librarians: April Cushing, Marie Lydon, Margot Sullivan, Tina Blood and Shelby Warner agreed to produce 1000 words or less once or twice a year. Their topics, style and humor kept our From the Library column varied and lively. A year later, others on staff joined in.

In the past seven years, 30 of us on staff – librarians, library assistants, and Simmons College interns – have contributed to the From the Library weekly column, never missing a deadline. Jean Todesca, Diane Phillips, Norma Logan and Bonnie Wyler and others have all covered areas of librarianship, including reading and library services, and have enlightened all of our readers.

In the fall of 2014 when I began a yearlong graduate certificate which required five master’s courses in public administration. I realized I would only be able to write twice a month at the most. I rearranged the rotation and some of our newer staff agreed to write at least four or five times a year – Liz Reed, Allison Palmgren, Nancy Ling and Kate Tigue. I hope you’ve enjoyed their point of view, their humor, and their knowledge. Recently, two of our newest staff members, Technology Assistant Sam Simas and Senior Circulation Assistant Jeff Hartman were added to the rotation. The staff of our library has collectively written over 375 columns. At a conservative estimate, we’ve written about 300,000 words or 3 or 4 novels!

You can imagine we were quite proud when the Massachusetts Library Association awarded our library the 2015 Public Relations award in the News/Journalism category.

What I’ve learning since writing columns for the past fifteen years is that writing takes discipline, deadlines and continual attention. I’ve listened to published authors speak on the subject of writing and they all have one thing in common: to produce writing you need to set aside a time and stick to it. You need to write every day. That was a habit I had to learn when I wrote weekly. I found that as soon as I finished one column, I was thinking of the next. I jotted down notes, collected book titles or articles, and spent a few minutes each day organizing my thoughts about the upcoming column.

The problem now that I don’t write as regularly is that I find myself a bit brain-dead. I often give in to the habit of procrastination. It’s becoming harder and harder to write a column simply because I am not actually writing or thinking about it on a daily basis. I used keep a list of column ideas and I gathered information all week in a skeleton “idea” document. I’ve conveniently given up the habit as my deadlines become farther and farther apart.

I’ve heard many authors speak and they almost always suggest that a writer set aside a part of his/her day to write. Although most of us working full time don’t think we have that luxury, I’ve always been amazed by writers of non-fiction, surgeon Atul Gawande or pediatrician Perri Klass and a multitude of college professors who manage to write book after book. It seems they must set a part of their day aside and discipline themselves to write.

Stephen King states that he writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” In his book “On Writing” (2000), he advises that “you have three months [to write the] first draft of a book. Even a long [book] – should take no more” than the length of a season.

In 1924, twenty-two year old Arnold Samuelson spent a year with writer Ernest Hemingway hoping to learn how to become a better writer. He documented that journey in “With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba” which was discovered and published after Samuelson’s death in 1981. Hemingway, Samuelson wrote, advised him that rewriting is the key and it should be done every day. Hemingway professed that he rewrote “A Farewell to Arms” 50 times. “The better you write, the harder it is because every story has to be better than the last one.”

E.B. White wrote that “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” When Haruki Murakami is writing a novel, he rises every day at 4 am and writes for 5 to 6 hours. And keeps to that routine every single day.

In “The Writing Life” (1989), Annie Dillard write with brutal honesty about a somewhat love/hate relationship she has with writing. In one of her essays she wrote that “a work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state … you must visit it every day. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room.”

There are a multitude of books in our library about writing, including those by Stephen King, Annie Dillard, and Arnold Samuelson. Check the library catalog and contact a librarian for help in finding them.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the April 21, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Alli Palmgren

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