How I Write Now

About the Author: Anna Whiteside is a 2009 graduate of the MFA-Fiction program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She currently works as the assistant director for the Honors Program at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. Her short stories and essays have been published in Redivider Journal, Witness Magazine, Chautauqua Journal, Pembroke Magazine, and the North Dakota Quarterly. She has essays forthcoming in Fourth Genre and Hotel Amerika.

            Flannery O’Connor is one of those writers who is completely inextricable from place. You can’t really think about her without thinking about the south, and, more specifically, Milledgeville, and, more specifically, Andalusia, the family farm on which she wrote most of her fiction. She worked, every day – even Sundays- locked in her bedroom, her desk facing the back of an armoire so that she could focus. If you have visited Andalusia, you can probably understand why; her window sits right on the front porch and gazes across the gently sloping lawn and then down a more dramatic hill to the cow pond. In her day, before the trees that now sit on the lawn grew up, you could see what was once a country highway not unlike the one Bailey’s family would have taken down to Florida. Distractions, I imagine, abounded.

            As a writer who also has a full time job that is not writing, I’m used to hauling around my laptop and squeezing in my work whenever I have the chance. I’ve written in coffee shops and airport terminals, on planes and on trains, and in spare bedrooms at different family member’s homes when we’ve been in town visiting. I’ve even managed block out some really boring meetings that could have been emails when the inspiration struck and I just had to jot down some thoughts on an essay or a short story.

            What I had not yet experienced, until the Covid-19 global pandemic made it necessary, was writing from one specific place, namely, the desk in our guest bedroom that has now become my de facto office. Unlike Flannery, I do sit facing the street, perhaps because I have no armoire or perhaps because I am less disciplined or perhaps simply because in these uncertain days, I need to see the sunshine washing over the azaleas in my front yard and watch the wind blow petals from my neighbor’s camelia bush. I am thankful for my vantage point. Last Friday, I heard a whir and I looked up to see an elderly gentleman driving a riding lawnmower down the middle of the road, carrying a puppy in his lap. As a grad school friend said, the south just gives and gives.

            I think about Flannery a lot these day, and not just as the voice in my head telling me to write every single day – even Sundays. I think about what it must have been like to learn, before you turned thirty, that your ability to move around the world was going to forever be limited. I think about how that must have affected the relationship that she had to place, and how this in turn affected her writing. In these two short weeks, the scope of my writing has changed as has the scope of my world. Local concerns have become much heavier. The problems I might have shrugged off before as being provincial now take on a greater import, and I realize that perhaps what it is that I sought out in all those different trips was not quite so important as what I have in front of me, of all of the subtle changes I now notice in my own front yard, of the world as it shifts, ever so slightly, just outside my own window. 

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