There’s a joke where a writer answers the telephone. On the line, their editor asks, “How’s the writing coming?” The writer responds, “Great! My whole house is cleaned, the laundry is done, and dinner is in the oven!” We often like to distract ourselves with anything other than putting words on the page. Brenda Sparks Prescott calls house cleaning an “underrated writing tool.” Thankfully, it’s one we all have access to.
Who are you?
I’m Brenda Sparks Prescott, writer and long-time university administrator, among other things. I live and write in the Boston area and in Southern Vermont.
What do you write?
I tend to write fictions that start with the question, “What if?” Out of the ensuing discovery process comes stories exploring identity, relationships, consciousness, and consequences of action or inaction. I’m particularly drawn to investigating notions of family and belonging, as well as what happens when we treat others as like us or not like us. These explorations have not been confined to human consciousness — I wrote a story with a protagonist who is a guinea fowl that experiences both her native flock mind and that of a human.
I was always interested in writing, but didn’t know how to become a writer. After graduating from college, I decided to mentor myself and picked up Nathalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Sitting with her generosity and teaching really broke words out onto the page for me. I spent many years mainly practicing freewriting before really concentrating on the craft of conventional storytelling.
Writing can be hard and dread-filled, no doubt about that. I often have to lie down or clean something around the house while I’m writing. House cleaning is an underrated writing tool. Writing is also exhilarating. I am constantly amazed at the knowledge and beauty that flows through the vessel that is my mind/spirit connected through my body to my pen.
Where do you write?
I usually write at home in my office or on the bed. I also go on DIY retreats to get uninterrupted and flexible writing time. After all of these years, I still use Goldberg’s suggested cheap spiral notebooks for freewriting and first drafts. I prefer roller ball pens for their flow but will grab anything if an idea hits and a roller ball isn’t handy. My current go-to is a Pilot Precise. I use Pentel mechanical pencils for revision of typed material.
When do you write?
It varies. When I have a salaried job, I write on weekends. I tried writing in the morning but found I would get too focused on it and forget to stop to get ready for work. When writing is my primary day job, I silo my time in chunks so that I have blocks of time when I only write and blocks (or a full day) when I do only other-than-writing things. I admire those who can write every day, but I can’t.
I may start a writing session with a timed freewriting practice of five to twenty minutes, depending on the need to prime the pump. The length of my fiction sessions are determined by time spent in the seat or perhaps by scenes written. Non-fiction can be word count or deadline driven.
Why do you write?
My psyche is calmer and more organized when I write.
Writing and reading fiction exercises the imagination, and strong, supple imaginations are critical to creating a just and sustainable future for humans and other beings on this planet. In writing historical fiction, also I honor the countless BIPOC lives that have been lived with agency, dignity, ingenuity, integrity, joy, and grace.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I might read books that are the type of writing I want to do. I also rely on freewriting sessions with prompts; many times the prompt is as simple as, “I know that…” Meditation also helps.
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
I love all kinds of puzzles, especially jigsaw puzzles and the New York Times crossword.