Inspired by “On the Lit Mat,” “Where Books+Body Meet” looks at writers’ habits—both in terms of when they sit down to create and in terms of how they restock their well of energy and creativity. For this installment, I’m thrilled to welcome Erika Robuck, who was kind enough to lend her inspiring words.
The Great Gatsby, currently receiving Baz Luhrmann’s big-screen treatment, depicts a world of lavish excess, a world with which F. Scott Fitzgerald and his beautiful and troubled wife, Zelda, were intimately familiar. Erika Robuck’s new book, Call Me Zelda, on the other hand, looks at the Fitzgeralds’ world after the party. Through the lens of Zelda’s relationship with a psychiatric nurse, Anna, we see the complicated woman who was more than merely a muse to her husband’s genius, and are allowed a close-up view of the Fitzgeralds’ tumultuous marriage.
Erika is also the author of the novel Hemingway’s Girl, which was a Target Emerging Author Pick and a Vero Beach Bestseller, and of Receive Me Falling. Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to the popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Hemingway Society.
You can find Erika on Twitter, where she lends her positive and supportive presence to the writing community 140 characters at a time.
7 Questions with Erika Robuck
How many hours a week do you spend writing?
I write two to three hours every day. Depending on the stage of the process I’m on, that time is spent researching, drafting, or revising. I spend another two to three hours a day devoted to the business side of writing: blogging, reviewing, answering emails, critique partner review, social media, etc.
What’s your favorite time and place to write?
When I’m in the most creative stage—writing the first draft—I prefer to write at night, from nine to midnight. That is the best time for allowing dead writers to haunt me, and I can stop working on my own terms.
I write at my desk with coffee or wine and classical music playing on Pandora, surrounded by books, photographs, and artifacts of my subject.
Where do you find inspiration when you aren’t feeling it?
Inspiration rarely sends me to my desk. It comes when I’m an hour in and feeling fatigued. Some strange magic suddenly takes hold and two hours have passed in what feels like minutes.
Place also inspires me: a tour of an old house, a walk by the bay, spending time in Key West….
What one book—fiction or nonfiction—would you say most influenced your approach to writing?
There are so many it’s hard to pick, but Stephen King’s On Writing taught me that the first draft is for me and all of the other drafts are for the reader. That gives me the freedom to explore when I begin a novel, and the discipline to get out of the way for each subsequent revision.
Many people consider fiction writing to be an unhealthy, antisocial, depression-courting activity and/or profession. Thoughts?
Since prehistoric days, story has been essential to the development and understanding of culture. From cave paintings, to the Bible, to New York Times bestsellers, fiction brings families together, shows us that others have felt the way we feel, and incites real societal change. If the writer has to walk a lonely landscape in order to produce these works, I consider it a worthy vocation.
I think the key to social and emotional health is to make sure there’s balance. For every hour one spends at the desk, one should make an effort to spend time with people, outdoors, engaged in the world around them. If you don’t first live, there is nothing to write about and no true understanding.
What rituals or activities do you consider your islands of peace (and possibly to balance the effects of writing)?
I consider reading a balance for writing. To me, reading restores what writing depletes. I always have to be reading a work of fiction outside of my own. I am partial to historical fiction.
If you do any physical activities, how do they affect your work?
Because I spend so much time sitting at my computer, I have to make time for physical exertion. My husband and I have three young sons and a dog, so our family makeup lends itself to outdoor activities. When I have time, I enjoy yoga, and I spend about 10 minutes every night before bed doing a series of strength-training exercises. This short burst of toning, in addition to cutting out sugary foods and drinks, has resulted in 17 pounds of weight loss, and a nice boost in energy for those long writing nights.