The Collapse of a Writing Routine—and How It Was Restored

The workspace of Frances Kazan

The workspace of Frances Kazan

Today’s guest post is by Frances Kazan, the widow of famed director Elia Kazan.


For years I was a disciplined writer. After walking the dog, I was seated at my desk by 9 a.m. After 500 words I’d go downstairs for lunch, followed closely by the dog. Sometimes my husband joined us, and sometimes he didn’t. Like me, he was a writer; his office was on the floor above mine. Around 2 p.m. I would return to edit, then I took off for either a yoga class or a walk in the park. Following this routine, I finished a master’s thesis (later published), a historical novel, Halide’s Gift, numerous articles for Cornucopia magazine, several lectures, and the first draft of another novel, The Dervish.

I used to work in the writers room at the local library. When that became too crowded, I put a desk in the corner of our bedroom, not a satisfactory arrangement. For a while I returned to the library of the university where I earned my degree, as an older (wiser) student, but the commute consumed precious time. Then my son graduated, his bedroom became my office, its windows overlooking the gardens at the back of the house. I used to gaze out at the plane trees and ivy-covered walls through a line of Grateful Dead stickers.

I was blessed. I had my own private space, where the silence was broken only by the thud of my husband’s typewriter, and the dog snoring on the sofa. I loved being alone with my thoughts and my work, absorbed by the flow of writing, oblivious to the passage of time.

Time and change are unavoidable; gradually my husband’s health declined. The two of us continued to work during that last hot summer, then, three weeks after his birthday, he died. In defiance of this truth I kept writing, clinging to my routine to maintain the appearance of normality, but the silence overhead became a crashing noise.

Dealing with the practicalities was overwhelming. First the execution of the will, then going though his papers stored in a room full of filing cabinets. Our house, too big for one person, had to be sold. The task of making it “market ready” consumed me. Eventually I moved out of our home of 20 years, taking the dog and my husband’s cat, forcibly pried from his study.

My writing routine collapsed. The manuscript of The Dervish languished in a drawer. Then The Dervish by Frances Kazandisaster: my dog was diagnosed with incurable blood cancer.

For several years I did not write another word. I traveled, found a new home, created a new life. One day generous friends loaned me their yali in Istanbul, where, in a room facing the Bosphorus, I returned to my manuscript. It wasn’t easy at first, thoughts were hard to organize, the right word was elusive. Eventually my routine was restored.

So here I sit at a new desk, in a new apartment, in another neighborhood, writing a blog to publicize the e-book edition. The Dervish has been published, a real book I can hold in my hand. Close by, my husband’s cat is asleep on the sofa, she’s frail, her gait is unsteady. I’ve lost track of her age.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Guest Post.
Frances Kazan

Frances Kazan

English-born Frances Kazan is a writer, lecturer, producer and arts supporter. Her latest novel is The Dervish.

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22 Comments on "The Collapse of a Writing Routine—and How It Was Restored"

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Lexa Cain

What a beautifully written and touching article. With all the sad points, I positively teared up by the time you got to the cat. (I’ve lost so many cats over the years, I can’t bear to own another, even though I adore them.) Best wishes on your new book. I live in Egypt now, and it looks very interesting.

Karoline Kingley

Your routine sounded effective! I might try it myself 🙂 This article was nicely written, I loved when you said that the silence upstairs became a crashing noise. How fun to be married to a writer!

Dianna M. Winget

What a touching post. I’m so sorry for the losses you’ve suffered, Frances. Nothing stays the same, but the desire to write never truly goes away. I’m glad that it resurfaced and that it has helped you to be able to move on.

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[…] The widow of Elia Kazan writes about the disruption of her writing routine, and how it was eventually restored.  […]

Shirley Showalter

Beautiful story, so vivid and true all the way to the bones. This is marketing of the very best kind. Thank you for sharing. I can see you in both places. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities. I don’t think I know what a yali is, but if it faces the Bosphorus, it must be beautiful.

Jennifer Louden

And the practice and the work comes back to ground us – thank you for that beautiful reminder!

Cyd Madsen
That period of time after something essential collapses, some call it denial, I see it as a romance. The suffering is over, the thing most feared has come and gone, and somehow we think we’re safe and sane. It’s a time of tremendous pain, but also a time of so many hands of support and kindness. Then the romance ends, and alone we deconstruct because we’re in that land of nothingness where no tools of rebuilding can be found. For me, an irrational belief if I just stayed away from anything I used to do in the same way I… Read more »
Debra Eve

What a beautiful, heartfelt story, Frances. In this society so obsessed with speed and youth culture, it is so inspiring to read about the rhythms of growing older — the joys, the sorrows, the triumphs of creativity.

Lisa

I also had a writing routine that I lost while dealing with medical issues. I am now struggling to regain that routine. I was beginning to feel it would never be re-established. Your article gives me hope. If I can persevere, I may get there. Thanks for sharing.

Linda K Sienkiewicz

I give you credit for reestablishing your writing after your grief. It’s taken me two years to want to return to a manuscript after the death of my son. I think moving to another location is key, don’t you? You, in Istanbul, me in a newly remodeled room in my house. It feels good to return to what I love best, but it took time. Good for you for taking the time you needed without beating yourself up for it.

@mytypewriter

Such a short post and I positively bawled. Best of luck, Frances.

dar49

Great article! Sorry for your losses. Congratulations on regaining your stride and the published book! Sharing on my blog: http://darsword.wordpress.com I think it helps us all to read of other writers’ journeys to success.

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[…] The Collapse of a Writing Routine by Frances Kazan. I found this inspiring in spite of the losses the author endured. Have you found yourself pulled off track? How did you find your way back to a proper routine? […]

Alison Singh Gee

Frances, I am about to begin the research and writing of my second memoir. (My first, Where the Peacocks Sing: A Palace, a Prince and the Search for Home, came out earlier this year.) Your blog inspires me: If you managed to push through the grief and tumult to write again, I know I can find my own groove again, too. Best of luck to you with your writing, and look forward to reading The Dervish, and reading more of your blogs about writing. Best, Alison Singh Gee

Lizmint

Beautiful and touching. I think I may have to read your book.

Lorraine Marie Reguly

Thanks for making me cry. I needed that.

It just goes to show how talented you are! I am sorry for your loss, too. I hate dealing with death, of all kinds! Then again, who likes it?

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[…] The Collapse of a Writing Routine—and How It Was Restored – Written by Frances Kazan for Jane Friedman: For years I was a disciplined writer. After walking the dog, I was seated at my desk by 9 a.m. After 500 words I’d go downstairs for lunch, followed closely by the dog. Sometimes my husband joined us, and sometimes he didn’t. Like me, he was a writer; his office was on the floor above mine. Around 2 p.m. I would return to edit, then I took off for either a yoga class or a walk in the park. Following this… Read more »
hughosmith

A truly beautiful story, thank you for sharing Mrs. Kazan.

Janet Singer

Beautifully written……..a reminder that change is the one constant.

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[…] The Collapse of a Writing Routine—and How It Was Restored […]

Frances Kazan

Thanks so much to everyone for the lovely comments on my blog piece. I really appreciate it.

Best,
Frances

Sherrey Meyer

Poignant is the only word to describe this heart-touching post. I appreciate your sharing the disruption and recovery of your writing routine.Somehow my day-to-day disruptions seem minimal now, but at least I know to get back in this chair and continue writing!

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