Patricia Lee Smith (born December 30, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter, musician, author, and poet who became an influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses.
“I get up and if I feel out of sorts I’ll do some exercises,” the punk singer, visual artist, and poet said in 2015. “I’ll feed my cat, then I go get my coffee, take a notebook, and write for a couple of hours. Then I just roam around. I try to take long walks and things like that, but I just kill time until something good is on TV.” Smith writes at home, usually in bed—“I have a fine desk but I prefer to work from my bed,” she has written, “as if I’m a convalescent in a Robert Louis Stevenson poem”—or else at a café near her Manhattan apartment. As for television, she is a devoted follower of crime shows, especially the darker varieties, and she sees parallels between their moody, obsessed detectives and the writing life. “Yesterday’s poets are today’s detectives,” Smith wrote in her 2015 memoir M Train. “They spend a lifetime sniffing out the hundredth line, wrapping up a case, and limping exhausted into the sunset. They entertain and sustain me.”
Any habits you’d encourage young writers to take up or avoid?
I wouldn’t presume to tell anybody anything, but I think having routine is really helpful. For me, I get up early, go to a cafe, or, if I don’t have a cafe to go to, to my desk or somewhere, early in the morning… a coffee… preferably when the city is sleeping, when people are sleeping, when you seem to own the universe, and spend some time with yourself writing, and make that a habit. I try to do that every day, and I think writing, a lot of it is discipline and labor. We can be inspired at any time – in the middle of the night, we wake up at three in the morning – but there’s so much labor to be done, it’s good to develop a work ethic and a discipline.
Also, always have a notebook somewhere on ya, or some piece of paper, some scrap, some pencil stub, because something comes to you at all these inopportune times, and there’s nothing worse than thinking you have the line of your life and no pencil or a piece of paper at hand.
When do you make the transition from notebooks to computer?
I’ve learned the hard way not to wait until I have mounds and mounds of work. I try every ten, twelve pages or so to transfer onto a little laptop. I used to write everything by hand, but it was so tedious after a while, and hard on my hand, ’cause I’d write whole manuscripts over and over by hand, that I find the computer very useful. But I try to get a little bulk done.
Do you edit as you go, or wait until the end?
I generally wait, because you can get really tripped up editing and get so involved in editing a segment that you lose your grasp on the whole.
Worst distraction from writing?
Detective shows. If I’m supposed to be working and there’s a new George Gently, or some marathon… every once in a while, if I’m lucky, there’s some marathon of CSI: Miami or something, that can be a little distraction. And it’s a new distraction for me, because for years and years I didn’t even watch TV. But since my detective addiction, I’ve found that I have to discipline myself a little sometimes, and do my work.