Tag Archives: on writing

Don’t Look; Just Write

I’m tucking into my second book, finessing the proposal with the world’s most patient woman, literary agent Pamela Malpas and her sidekick, Louise. (Louise is a bunny; she has a killer kick.)

And I have discovered something about the process of writing. It requires more than discipline; we all know it takes that. What writing really demands is hardass blindness.

It requires ignoring dirty dishes in the sink, or eating off paper plates. It requires admitting the spice rack isn’t alphabetized, the car cleaned out, or your underwear folded before it gets stuffed in the drawer. Writing demands serious thought time; although some people can, I’ve never been able to work on a chapter for half an hour, then get up and go. If I can’t get a couple of hours in with some depth perception, it’s not worth it to open the laptop cover. Sort of like napping; what’s the point if you don’t get to REM?

Someone asked my hobbies the other day; I said crocheting, playing the harp, caning chair seats, and swimming. The person said, “And writing, right?” No, not any more. Writing is something to make time for, not do when I can find time.

It’s not just professionalism (read: a tight deadline) that’s shifted my priorities. Like exercise of any muscle, writing begets the desire to do more of it. H0bbies fall away as you clear time to write, but so does household tidiness, perfectionism, and deferring to the social obligations others want to demand of you. It all goes in the same un-emptied dumpster, overflowing with good intentions.

Someday, I’m going to put my good china in the upstairs cupboard and our everyday dishes in our downstairs bookstore kitchen. Feeding Valkyttie yesterday, I realized my Irish Waterford Crystal saucers had gone to the cat closet. That night I had soup from a plastic bowl with a very old decal of Snoopy on the bottom.

Where did we get a Snoopy bowl? I don’t remember buying a Snoopy bowl, and I haven’t had time to yard sale this summer, anyway.

Someday, I’m going to pick the delicious apples on our backyard trees. Meanwhile, we just keep calling neighbors to come get them. They’re lovely. The Golden ones are the size of my head. The neighbors who pick them always give us a couple; they’re great with peanut butter as a quick desk lunch.

Someday, I’m going to go back to playing Celtic harp, and pick up my Arabic language lessons again. Someday. I still swim once a week because it’s good for me, and I’ve lessened the exercise slack by walking to the grocery store. It’s just a half mile from our house; I use the time to think about narrative structure. Or what’s not getting done at the bookstore.

Someday, I’m going to make Christmas tree angels from old hymnals, create bath bombs with the kit I bought two years ago, and cane the rest of the chairs in our garage.

Someday I’m going to say to Jack, “No, honey; you cooked last night. Let me do it” and make something that won’t frighten him with its swiftness, use of leftovers, and microwaved edges. Someday.

Meanwhile, I’m writing a book. Someone call me when it’s Thanksgiving Dinner, okay?

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

Embrace the Jabberwock

Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! –Lewis Carroll

Everyone finds it hard to make time to write. Sometimes squeezing “butt in seat” moments requires hiding from humanity.

Since publication of Little Bookstore last October–heck, since the February before–my agent Pamela, a diplomatic woman of great gentleness, has been dropping hints. “Working on anything?” She doesn’t push, she just … asks. Every once in awhile.

It’s very effective.

Lest poor Pam bear the brunt, I have WANTed to be writing again. A vague idea has swirled into semi-solid form, and the little pin prickles of desire, of inspiration–of guilt–have grown into claws that reach out to pull my butt back in the chair.

Those of you out there who write know what it’s like: toy with an idea, write a scene, think, daydream. Start to build. Force yourself into the chair and silence your internal critic’s voice: “This is stupid. This is crap.”

Beware the jaws that bite.

Then the half-formed beast of an idea’s claws reach out and pull you in, and you’re dropping social engagements to get another hour with your characters. You never want to leave that chair.

It’s not unlike being in love.

Last weekend I fled to a quiet place for two days of butt in chair and fingers on keyboard. It’s funny how writing begets writing in the same way that exercising exhausts you, then energizes you to exercise more. First your brain goes into a post-writing meltdown where you have nothing to say; every last spark of creativity gone, you curl into fetal position under a quilt. Lying in the dark, you start to think “what if he…” and you’re up again, fingers on keys, butt in chair.

And then you hit a bald patch, or the characters take over and drive you into a corner you can’t see a way out of, and you pout and fume and go back under the quilt, and a mental image comes to you, and up you get, and so it goes.

Perhaps it’s less love than lion taming. You don’t want to completely subdue the beast of an idea, but you can’t let it take over, either.  Partnership rather than dominance; you need it and it needs you.

I’m not sure the chair-quilt swing is a healthy lifestyle, but glory, it’s fun. When it’s going well. Or when it’s over. It’s fun the same way half-way through the marathon is fun (my running friends tell me) even though every step is pain. Sometimes it’s about the moment you’re in. Sometimes it’s about the goal you’re reaching.

But it’s always, always a thrill when those claws reach out and catch you, and you see in your mind’s eye what’s going to happen next, and you’re just waiting for the chance to put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and hear the roar again.

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