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Behind the Sentences with… Shawn Vestal

Behind the Sentences with… Shawn Vestal

Shawn Vestal is shortlisted for his story, Teamwork

Where do you work? Describe your space, what it looks and feels like, and why it’s a conducive place to write...

I work most often on the couch in my living room, feet up on the coffee table, laptop on my lap, coffee close at hand. Because I work at a newspaper, my fiction writing happens on a couple of specific days of the week, and I usually do it during the mornings when my wife and son are off to work and school. It’s comfortable, quiet and pleasantly dim, and I’m very used to it as a space in which my mind can venture outward. That’s has been complicated by the stay-home orders around Covid-19, because I’m almost never alone at home any more. I do have a little office with lots of windows that is surrounded by trees, which is a lovely place to work but not far away from the hubbub of our small house.

What is your writing routine? Are you a morning or evening person, do you have any rituals associated with your writing? What happens if your routine isn’t adhered to?

I am not a morning person, but I work best first thing in my late-starting day, and I try to avoid letting too much of the world in, via social media or the internet, before doing the imaginative work. Ideally, I do that two days a week. Then I fit work in wherever else I can, particularly when it’s going well or I’m up against some kind of deadline. But I find it helpful to write hard for a couple days, then step away to think about what’s next for a bit.

Do you have any writer “habits” – bad or otherwise? Any common words that you notice you used in every paragraph, or typos you make, specific pens or notebooks, or do you have to have a snack at the same time every day, for example?

I like to make bread or play the piano while writing, taking the occasional break to fold the dough or clunk through a song. Then back to the page. But I don’t have any hard and fast habits, really. I used to think I needed to do this or that, or set specific goals, or create some kind of ideal situation that fostered creative work, but I’ve decided I don’t. I just try to make a commitment to myself to do it, then keep it. And I’ve love to be able to work longer at a stretch – I can’t really do creative, imaginative work for more than a few hours.

What happens when you stop writing? Away from the page, what do you do to relax? What happens if you have writers’ block? Do you have any tricks to escape it?

I enjoy reading, cooking, puttering, obsessing about the state of the world, scrolling furiously through Twitter, doing crossword puzzles, and playing video games with my son, who trounces me mercilessly. I also enjoy planning all the beneficial exercise I will engage in tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. I try to avoid writers’ block by having a couple of things in progress – a story or two and longer work I can jump into, if I’m stuck on something else. Mostly, though, working in journalism has helped me get over writers’ block. I’ve just had to get used to writing whether I feel like it or not.

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