I Don’t Know How Madeleine L’Engle Did It


Dyane with Madeleine L’Engle, the bestselling author of A Wrinkle In Time

Santa Barbara, California, 1997


I’ve always had concentration challenges when it comes to writing.

I need quiet, quiet, and more quiet.  Sometimes I can write with mellow music in the background; lately I’ve listened to the Pandora Channel’s Hawaiian or Snatam Kaur stations.  I write my best when all I hear is the faint rush of traffic on the mountain highway below our home.

The topic of concentration is on my mind while I’ve been housebound for the past four days with my little girls.  They each caught a nasty bug.  I’ve spent time with them reading one-on-one, doing homework that was sent home by their teachers, and cuddling with them.  Coldy cuddles?  Yeah, that’s crazy, I know, since I don’t want to pick up their colds!  But I’m one foolish gal.

Apart from interacting with my congested kids, I’ve been able to write while they’ve watched Despicable Me 2 and Frozen, or playing the highly educational  Littlest Pet Shop game on my Kindle.  However, I can’t go in another room away from them to write because they want me nearby.  I can’t blame them for wanting me within eyesight when they are feeling so awful.

So I write in a noisy, interruption-filled room, because I’d rather write and make plenty of typos and syntax errors than not write at all.  Which brings me to Madeleine L’Engle.   I’ve always been intrigued by the writing method of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors for over thirty-five years.

L’Engle said that she learned how to write virtually anywhere, with all kinds of distractions.  She cultivated the habit while growing up in a girl’s boarding school.  L’Engle was a loner, and while her classmates listened to records or gossiped away, she was able to tune out their chatter.

L’Engle further developed this extraordinary ability when she became a Broadway actress and assistant to the star/director Eva LeGalliene.  The lengthy amounts of time that L’Engle spent backstage provided her with ample opportunity to write.  She also took advantage of writing time on trains when LeGalliene’s theater productions toured the country.  L’Engle didn’t wear ear plugs, either!

Neal Porter worked with L’Engle during his tenure at her longtime publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  He remembered her in a Publisher’s Weekly tribute after the bestselling author died in 2007.  Porter remarked, “When we were on the road together, she would agree to meet me in our hotel lobby at such and such hour.  When I found her, she invariably had a notebook in hand and was scribbling away.”  I would give my eyeteeth for the ability to write well in hectic locations!

I don’t want to slap another label on myself, i.e. ADD, or blame my meds for making me unable to focus.  I’ve had this challenge for decades before I was diagnosed.  I think I can do just fine by continuing to carve out blocks of writing time while the girls are at school.  I also think it’s fine to use headphones and music as a way to tune out distractions as long as I don’t put my children in harm’s way.

Apart from my writing environment, I have another writing-related dilemma that has developed over the past six months. This quandary happens whether I’m in a silent room or a in house full of chainsaws.  (Or in a room where a truck seems about to run into me at my writing desk – see my post “Almost” for more details on that one.)


I’ve developed a habit I call “Facebook/Twitter hopping”.  You can probably guess where this is going.

Here’s an example: I’m working feverishly on an essay.  Then I become frustrated or bored with what I’m writing about, so I hop over to my perpetually open Facebook and Twitter pages to take a peek.  My peek becomes an extended break, and my writing subject is a distant memory.  Finally I hop back to the writing, sometimes refreshed and able to re-connect with the material, but usually my focus is blurrier.

This “back and forthing” is a guilty pleasure, and it’s so tempting to do!  Hopping is not always such a bad thing, if done in moderation.  That’s where I get into trouble, for I’m often not great with moderation when it concerns Facebook surfing or chocolate inhalation, for that matter.  I’m attempting to cut down on the internet hopping.

We shall see if I stick to my hopping resolution – I don’t want to be eighty when I finish my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder!  Thanks for reading, and please, if you like to write too, tell me what your challenges are and what helps you as well.  I’d love to know about it!



Madeleine’s granddaughter, the writer Lena Roy, writes a brief-but-entertaining blog post about her writing process. Here’s the link:


Two Awesome Madeleine L’Engle Quotes about Writing

“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

If you like these L’Engle writing quotes, there are 32 more of them at Goodreads:




6 thoughts on “I Don’t Know How Madeleine L’Engle Did It

  1. I’m a big fan of Madame L’engle too. It was interesting to read bout her work habits. But every writer is different and you are actually very prolific. Don’t worry that you can’t concentrate with a lot of chaos and noise. Few writers can, and that includes the best of them. 🙂

    • Hi there L.E. Henderson!

      I’m going to follow the great L’Engle’s advice, and “Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write. She also advises that one “keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you” which gave me pause.

      I wondered what L’Engle would think of blogging! Her granddaughter Lena Roy blogs, but I don’t think L’Engle caught on to the blogging craze because her health failed years before her death. I’m not sure she would have been into it, anyway.

      I used to be a big journal keeper but I stopped and now I blog publically instead of journal privately as she advises us.

      Anyway, I’m not even sure what my point is, but what I *am* sure of is that I value your comments and feel really honored you read some of my writing.

      You help me feel understood and encouraged from one writer to another. It’s a treat and it’s one of the primary reasons I keep this blog. 🙂

      Thank *you*!

    • More L’Engle-themed computer scribbling are slated for tomorrow – and I’m working on writing shorter posts! 😉
      It *is* possible! Maybe one of these days I’ll write 300 word/post instead of 1000+. What’s that saying…”brevity is the soul of wit”?

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