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Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?
How did you guess? Yes, I work in public spaces, as it comes to the creative process. They are various and unpredictable (the spaces), as I always carry a tiny notebook along. I can start scribbling whenever the occasion presents itself. Line at the post office. Transportation. My car, if I have arrived earlier for a commitment. A bench, anywhere. Doctor waiting rooms. Hospital waiting rooms (how many of those…)
I said: “as it comes to the creative process.” I review, of course, on a computer, mostly at home.
What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
I mentioned a tiny notebook. Hopefully it is at hand. Luckily, I seem to have developed the ability of finding anything writable-upon. I am amazed at the variety of matter that might work. Surfaces don’t need to be clear. I can write between lines, around lines, on top of them. As for the tracing instrument, everything goes. I confess having tried a lip liner, once, with poor results. So… I write by hand, yes, and I review on a computer. Two completely different processes.
What is your routine for writing?
There really isn’t one. But I have few “unwritten writing rules.” One is embedded in my previous answers: the first drafts inevitably occur in the open—interstitial, impromptu, spontaneous, free. Two—if something comes to mind I feel I should (or would like to) write, I have a deal with myself: yes, I will. No excuse. That seed will go into the ground. That thing, whatever it is, will be laid on paper, always. The third unwritten rule is that I devote time to review, rewrite, polish drafts, submit, edit, take care of all publishing practices, as often as possibly—daily is the ideal, and I rarely skip a day. Meaning a night, because the time I devote to such practice is nocturnal.
How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
As a child. Which means I have done it for a lifetime. But I have immigrated twice, each time settling in a new language, and restarting from zero. Each new beginning took decades of adjustments.
Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?
This is a fascinating question. For a long time I have “perceived” an audience I semi-consciously tried to reach as I wrote. I suppose it was banally made of those people I have loved the most, and somehow I have missed to reach in depth, or they haven’t responded to my wish of mutual understanding (relatives untimely passed or unavailable, failed relationships, teachers/mentors inaccessible or gone). Of course, that doesn’t make a crowd. Just a couple of souls from which I’d have liked to get a nod back. Through the years, these hidden interlocutors have vanished—and I like it better this way. When I write, now, it is like sealing a message in a bottle—for the unknown person who will enjoy what I have to say. I can’t wait to meet that person, yet waiting is exhilarating, and serene.
What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
I could describe what inspires me to write as “emergency.” Something (anything) that breaks the surface of my usual perceptions, insistently comes to mind, keeps whispering in my ear, demands for attention. Usually, a bizarre feeling, bizarre association of ideas, curious pattern of events. Like a knot that needs unraveling. Like a path in the woods I want to follow to see where it goes.
I don’t experience blocks. Not really. As I said, my writing is spontaneous and intermittent, though frequent. I’d continue on a piece because there is more to say, whenever there is more to say. If I pick up my text—wherever interrupted—and read it afresh, there will be certainly some corrections to make. As I make them and read over, something will follow. Even a little bit. Some things are irresistibly drafted—they pour out unstoppably. Some things accrete slowly. I don’t fret over them. They will bloom eventually. Nothing, ever, remains unfinished.
What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
I am an artist and crafter, a professional dancer, singer, and musician. I have always done all these things for my living. They are my curse and my blessing.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
The end, of course. The moment when, by magic, something is in front of me that didn’t exist before. Like when you smell the pie in the oven, and it has risen, and it is golden brown.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
I am not too much of an advicer, alas.
But I could say: you know what you do, and why you do it.
Trust your contents, let them dig their own riverbed. Never harness them, never force them.
Try to never double-guess yourself.
Never listen for a single second to any negative comment you might receive, no matter how authoritative the dispenser.
Take all positive comments with a grain of salt.
Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician, and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in Apt, Aji Magazine, The Spectacle, and The Goldman Review.