Writer in Residence

I cannot not write

By Dietrich Kalteis


“If you wait for inspiration to write you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” — Dan Poynter

I have this morning routine that involves the perfect cup of coffee, the right music, and showing up in my den, ready to go. Soon I’m in that place of no effort where the words just find the page.

How a writer gets to that place will be different for each of us. Maybe early morning’s not everybody’s best time. Some people actually sleep, and some don’t like coffee; still others might find my music awful, or any music an absolute distraction. The only thing that matters is that I show up, and when I do the muse shows up too.

So, I begin where I left off and find the cadence, that point where my words hit the beat of the action, and they just flow. The zone’s that place where there’s no pressure, nothing pulling my focus and no awareness of the passing of time. And there’s no quota of words that I need to chase by end of the day. It’s okay if I only write a couple of pages, and if they’re good, then I’m happy with that. Other days I might get an entire chapter or more done. It doesn’t matter because it’s a labor of love.

Most of the time, I don’t plan what’s coming next. The story just makes its way line by line, scene by scene. As the characters get fleshed out, they start to plot their own course. My job is to get in the shadows and let them tell the story from their points of view — my pencil scribbling or my fingers tapping and typing as the scheme of things unfolds.

When I’m in the zone, there’s just this ease — riding the wave — and there’s never such a thing as writer’s block. In fact, giving it that name might have me thinking it’s real.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” — Charles Bukowski

Anytime the characters haven’t decided to make their play, I back up and reread what I’ve got so far. Sometimes that works like a push from behind and gets them going. If not, I might switch to another part for awhile, trusting they’ll let me know when they’re ready. 

When I’m not at my desk and an idea sparks, I jot it down. It’s that or there’s a good chance it will be gone. And if possible, I sit and play with it right then. 

Once, I was in an airport waiting lounge when an idea arrived, and I got out my notebook and started writing, the idea expanding and the carnival of activity falling away around me. I ended up with most of a chapter of Triggerfish — and just before the final boarding call.

“For novels, I like the whole first and second draft feeling, and the act of making paper dirty.” — Neil Gaiman

Maybe it’s my old-school ways, but I often write a first draft in longhand. There’s something organic about pencil on paper — a closer connection to the words — in spite of the scratched out parts, the arrows and circles all over the place, the tiny notes running up the margins that I can barely make out later. Subsequent drafts get typed into the Mac where I can edit, make universal changes and move parts around with no effort or balled-up paper all over the floor.

Hemingway said write until you come to a place where you still have your juice. That works for me, knowing I’ll be fresh and eager to pick up where I left off for the next morning — coffee in hand, music on, and the muse waiting for me to show up.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), Zero Avenue, Poughkeepsie Shuffle, and Call Down the Thunder. His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, entitled Shootout, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. Cradle of the Deep is his eighth published work. He lives with his family on Canada’s West Coast.