The Magnolia Review: Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?
Buffy Shutt: I do most of my writing in a room I call my studio, but which is technically one-third of the pool house. It has lots of windows and there is lavender growing under the facing window. I spend my downtime wondering whether I should get up and water it. Then I tell myself that lavender loves being dry so stop looking for an excuse to get up. I sit at a small white desk, more like an old-fashioned vanity that my daughter bought when she went to college. I am afraid one day she is going to say she wants it for her apartment. She’ll take it away, and I won’t be able to write anymore. I also have a stand-up desk next to this table. I try to write standing as much as possible since I have totally bought into sitting is the new smoking.
What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
I love the idea of writing by hand using a beautiful fountain pen, but I have terrible penmanship and sometimes I can’t read my own writing. I use my laptop and phone. I was tied to my phone, as many of us are, when I worked full-time in the corporate world; a time when you might say that the phone used me. Now I use it! I use it to capture my stray thoughts, first lines and ideas by writing emails to myself. I usually have the phone on or near me so I am my own most constant correspondent—the perfect pen pal except that when I read what I wrote I’m sometimes not exactly sure what I meant, they read like fragments from a dream.
What is your routine for writing?
I start writing in the morning, break for lunch and if things are going well; go back for an afternoon session, finishing up around 6:30. (But not every day cause life intervenes but maybe four out of seven). I try to work on two stories at a time. I let them compete for my attention. If one story lets me down, I make the other one my best friend and let it curry my favor. I guess I am so competitive I’ve created a process to keep a rivalry going with myself.
How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
I think I wrote my first story when I was ten. I feel like I have been writing all my life, but I interpret the notion of writing broadly. My definition is either infinitely sensible or an elaborate defense for not always writing fiction. Writing might be journaling, emailing “letters” to my friends, writing work-related memos to convince the higher-ups of a good idea or to get funding, or drafting big presentations where concise bullet points might make all the difference in getting a green light. Writing is a tool that can be put to use for lots of different purposes—all (maybe most) legit.
Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?
I write for my best friend. She is my not-so-secret audience. She is also my first reader. I trust that her comments will help me write the story I want to write and not the one she wishes she could read.
What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
Reading inspires me. Hearing live music or seeing dance or theatre performances also inspires me. Movies inspire me, too. My son is a sculptor and I have become more and more interested in and inspired by the visual arts. Blocked? I take a walk. And walk some more. I complain to my husband, who is also a writer (Peter Seth, his recent novel is What It Was Like) and very sympathetic. I busy myself knocking a few things off my on-going, Virgo forged to-do list. I start something new—bam! off the cuff! flying blind!—with no real idea of where it might lead me.
What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
I practice yoga four times a week. I meditate. I take courses at a local college with two friends. I love sports and watch a lot of baseball and basketball. Both big distractions but I love it. And I spend time with my grandson who has opened a world of possibility to me and reminds me to be in the present moment, a headspace writers need to cultivate.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I have two favorite parts: getting something to a point where I’m not afraid to share it and having a reader respond to it—favorably, I hope, but any response at all is welcome and good.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Read omnivorously. Don’t slack on the revising part. Revise relentlessly. Join/start a writers’ group. Being a part of a small writers’ group has been a source of tremendous support for me. First, you have to show up with something to read; second, you have to listen to what your friend-editors are saying, and third, you get to spend time talking about writing with other writers which brings home the sublime realization: Hey, I’m a writer!
Check out Buffy’s story, winner of The Magnolia Review Ink Award, in Volume 3, Issue 2!