SHERIDAN — Stephen King writes. Ernest Hemingway wrote with a bottle of scotch next to his pen and paper. Kurt Vonnegut did sets of pushups and sit ups before he took to the typewriter.
The process of taking a blank piece of paper and turning it into literary art differs from person to person. Keri De Deo knows that well.
When the English instructor at Sheridan College began her sabbatical in 2014, she set out to finish a 250-page book. Instead, De Deo walked away with invaluable experience about the writing process to share with her students.
After receiving word that she would be given an eight-month sabbatical, De Deo stuck with a strict routine. She did the math and developed a plan in which she would force herself to write a specific number of pages every day.
“I used to be very disciplined with my writing,” De Deo said. “I was always the kind of person who if someone told you to do something, I would sit down and force myself to finish writing.”
Everything went smoothly, until a writer’s worst enemy showed up — writer’s block.
“I didn’t know what to say,” De Deo said. “I just sat in front of my computer in front of an empty screen and I couldn’t write.”
Within three days, she ditched her schedule and tried something new.
Instead of spending every day slumped over a keyboard, De Deo took daily hikes in the mountain which proved to work wonders for her writing. She said she instantly found inspiration as she was able to clear her mind. De Deo periodically took out a piece of paper during her hikes, writing anywhere between one sentence or one page of her thoughts.
She continued her therapeutic hikes and meshed her thoughts into her writing. But then, of all things, a typo led her to her next adventure.
When she came across a flyer from the textbook company McGraw Hill, she noticed a misspelled word on the sheet. In line with her inner English teacher, she took a red pen, circled the error and sent it to the company.
In response, McGraw Hill gave her a job.
De Deo began editing the company’s online textbooks. While editing may seem bland, especially for a creative writer such as De Deo, she said that it was actually one of the best things she could have done. She was required to learn coding, a subject she had not remotely thought about in her 17 years of teaching.
“With coding, and doing all of the math involved with it, for some reason that really connected to writing,” De Deo said. “It’s sort of involves similar thought processes and similar thinking to writing.”
By the end of her sabbatical, her routine looked totally different than the schedule she originally set out for herself. It began with a morning hike, a brief break for lunch, then she came home to work on her book or writing code, depending on how she was feeling that day.
But most importantly, she was writing something every day.
“I didn’t expect any of this to happen,” De Deo said. “I kind of had visions of grandeur, but it turned out for the better. I got to know myself better and learned how I operate.”
When her sabbatical came to an end in January 2015, she was far from completing her memoir, which is based on her experiences with death stemming from her battle with breast cancer. However she did manage to get a book deal from a publisher after submitting her first chapter. De Deo currently has four chapters completed and is aiming to complete the book in 18 months.
“She really did some great work on her sabbatical,” Dr. Paul Young, president of the Northern Wyoming Community College District said at the August board of trustees meeting.
Perhaps more important than the book was what she took away from her experience as a full-time writer. She said she now implements first-hand experiences with writing which helps her teaching and her students.
“I tell my students that even for a person like me who likes writing, writing is hard,” De Deo said. “You just have to do some type of writing every day, whatever it is … but now that I have that experience under my belt with more confidence, I feel like I am better at convincing them.”