David W. Berner
David W. Berner-the award winning author of ACCIDENTAL LESSONS and ANY ROAD WILL TAKE YOU THERE-was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he began his work as a broadcast journalist and writer. He moved to Chicago to work as a radio reporter and news anchor for CBS Radio and later pursue a career as a writer and educator. His book ACCIDENTAL LESSONS is about his year teaching in one of the Chicago area’s most troubled school districts. The book won the Golden Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature and has been called a “beautiful, elegantly written book” by award-winning author Thomas E. Kennedy, and “a terrific memoir” by Rick Kogan (Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio). ANY ROAD WILL TAKE YOU THERE is the author’s story of a 5000-mile road trip with his sons and the revelations of fatherhood. The memoir has been called “heartwarming and heartbreaking” and “a five-star wonderful read.”
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The Disciplined Writer
by David W. Berner
I was lucky. In fact, I would consider myself privileged to have been chosen to finish the manuscript for Any Road Will Take You There during a 2-½ month stay at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. That’s pretty special. I was named the writer-in-residence at the Kerouac Project and was honored by the opportunity to write, uninterrupted, for 10 weeks while I lived in the home where Kerouac lived just after the big splash for his masterpiece, On the Road. It was an amazing experience.
But of all the things I gained from that time in Orlando, one of the most important for me as a writer was perfecting the art of discipline.
I thought I had always been pretty good about considering writing as a job. What I mean by that is to treat the work of writing as just that, work. Get up, get dressed, go to the office (your writing space) and get down to the business of putting words on paper. When I wrote Accidental Lessons–my first memoir–I spent 30 minutes every weekday morning at my laptop before going to my job as a teacher, and the on weekend mornings I spent at least two hours at my desk, starting at sunrise. I was living alone at the time, so that made it easier. But that shouldn’t matter. Tell those you live with that “this is your writing time” and to give you the space, leave you alone, unless the house is on fire. The idea is to keep your writing time¬–when and wherever that is–sacrosanct.
However, when I arrived at the Orlando house, I knew I had to keep an even more disciplined routine. The Kerouac House is in a quaint part of city, College Park. There are great restaurants, coffee shops, a solid bookstore in an adjacent neighborhood, then you have the ocean only a drive away, and plenty of bike trails. Oh yes, golf courses, too. One could easily get lost in Florida’s charms, so in order to battle that I set up a schedule. I would rise around 6AM each day, make coffee, and sit myself down at a small desk in the same tiny room where Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums and I would write for two hours. I’d then break, make breakfast, take a short walk, and then return to the desk. I would write until noon or 1PM and then call it a day, returning to the writing work only if I was particularly moved to do so. I would fill the rest of the afternoon with exercise, exploring the town of College Park, golf now and then, and a bike ride or two. In the evenings after dinner, I would play guitar or read. And then I would get up the next day and do it all over again.
There were times I would make adjustments. My son came to visit for a few days, I had some freelance journalism work to complete and that required some local travel. But generally, I stuck to that plan because it worked for me. I got words on paper every single day.
Many times at writing workshops I’ve been asked how to find the time to complete a book, a novel, even a short story. How do you find time for writing? It’s a simple answer, really. You have to make the time, and keep it sacred. I teach college and work in broadcast journalism in Chicago, I’m busy. But when I’m working on a writing project, I set up my schedule and I stay with it. You must think of the writing process like working out. You want to lose weight, get in shape, then you have to stick to a disciplined routine and it’s same thing for writing. You can make it work for you by locking in designated times or word counts as mileposts. Set goals, but don’t set the bar too high. Even if you can block out just 30 minutes a day, or knock out 500 words a sitting, that’s good. It all adds up.
And one other thing: forget about waiting for the muse. There is no such thing. Writing is a job–an artistic, creative job–but it’s still a job. There’s work to be done; get to it.
Any Road Will Take You There, my latest book is about a 5000-mile road trip I took with my sons after a family secret was revealed. The journey becomes an examination of fatherhood and how all men will be forever influenced by the fathers who came before them. But to make this cross-country trip a success, just like the work of writing, I needed to devise a plan. Map out some travel, book camping reservations, and rent a vehicle–one of those tacky RVs. I had to plan meals and pack food. But I also had to permit myself to break the rules, to forget about plans and go with my gut. We took some unfamiliar roads, made a lot of extra stops, and explored far more than was on the itinerary. So, despite all the talk here about being disciplined and scheduled with your writing, it’s also important to occasionally throw all of that out the window. Discipline gets the work done, but freeing yourself from it helps feed the soul. Remember both.
I completed the manuscript for Any Road Will Take You There at the Kerouac House that summer in Orlando. There would be more edits and some touch-ups to perform before publishing, but I was able to complete a very solid draft because, in part, I stayed true to the work. There’s no magic to it. Just start typing.
ABOUT Any Road Will Take You There
Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story told with humor and grace, revealing the generational struggles and triumphs of being a dad, and the beautiful but imperfect ties that connect all of us.
Recipient of a Book of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association, Any Road Will Take You There is honest, unflinching, and tender.
In the tradition of the Great American Memoir, a middle-age father takes the reader on a five-thousand-mile road trip — the one he always wished he’d taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, he rereads the iconic road story — Jack Kerouac’s On the Road — and along with his two sons and his best friend, heads for the highway to rekindle his spirit.
However, a family secret turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of his role as a father, and compels him to look to the past and the fathers who came before him to find contentment and clarity, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of being a dad.
Number of Pages: 300
Publisher: Dream of Things
Publication Date: September 23, 2014