In Darcy Pattison’s “Fiction Notes,” she addressed this very topic this week. There are too many other people to list who have also given suggestions. Gee. Sounds like a book idea! Wait. There are probably lots of books concerning how to write when there are others around.
One of Darcy’s suggestions is to use pen and paper. I do this so much — even journaling daily in marble notebooks — that I think about this suggestion about as much as I think about being a woman, i.e., it just is a part of me. So, thank you, Darcy, for rattling my brain a bit.
Not long after Hurricane Katrina struck, I headed south on a mission trip with PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance). For the first few days, I helped cut trees and drag branches to the roadside for later pickup and became spotty with gnat and mosquito bites. During our shade-and-drink breaks, I’d whip the small notebook and pen from my back jeans pocket, and write furiously until we started up again. Then, during the leaders meeting, the director of the camp asked if anyone had a writer in their group — to work on the website, write down stories, etc. My fearless leader’s hand shot up, indicating that I was the only one in the group of 90-some volunteers there at that time who was “a writer.” One man from NJ who’d worked with me and the trees that week, confessed he wondered why I hid behind tree trunks scribbling all the time.
The next day, I was left alone in the tent camp, except for my gnat and mosquito friends, staring at the computer. The wall-canvases were pulled to the poles so I could look over my lonely territory. I stared at the screen, tried to organize my notebook thoughts, feeling lonely and deserted and wondering how I could stand the pressure of being the lone writer, and what I would write about first, when who wandered into the shade of my tent, but the big honcho in charge of all PDA camps in the area. Interview time!
I had lots to share with him from my scribbles to bring him up to current speed of the camp, and he gave me lots more to write about, dealing with the camp’s short history.
Robert Louis Stevenson (one of my literary heros) always carried pencil and pad with him and scribbled away notes and snatched bits of conversation. Of course, this was pre-notebook (computer) days. But there are many times when technology is unavailable even today. So… keep those notebooks and journals and a couple of pens (in case one runs out of ink on you) handy.
One very important thing I failed to mention concerning writing when there are others around, was/is personal discipline.
Besides my husband working in the den of our house for much of his work, we have company at our house now — for about 10 days. I’ll have a 3-day break at the end of next week before we get in a different set of company (family — hurrah!) for two weeks. I’ll have company in our house 24-7 for most of this month. It’s a might distracting for the writer.
It’s now 7 days into the month. How much writing have I gotten done so far this month? Confession: very little. Excuse: entertaining guests and traveling to touristy places. However, I have done some writing, and I’ll share the reflections of my experiences.
How to write when there are others around? Unfortunately, I’m not rude enough to shut myself up behind a closed door. Besides, when I do that, I inevitably get distracted by laughter from the next room — which I’m SURE was some great writing fodder story which I’ve lost out on. So…
1) Sneak away for a five-minute writing break. It feels glorious. You may feel sneaky and somewhat guilty, but glorious all the same. I know this. I am a writer. I need to write each and every day. If I end up not writing, I make Oscar the Grouch look as singing-sweet as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
2) When you do get the chance to sneak away, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — spend your glorious writing minutes with checking your email, catching up on FaceBook, LinkedIn, favorite blogs, how far the Gulf Coast tar balls have drifted, etc..
3) Enjoy your company. Relish in visits from family. Love them to pieces. And learn to delegate. (e.g., “Oh, say… how ’bout if you folks clear the table and wash the dishes?” Then go sneak in your cherished writing minutes.)
4) Microize your normal writing goals. (I sure hope I made that word up instead of used some swear word or laser weapon. No time to research it now. Remember? I’ve got company in the next room.) Instead of giving yourself 3 hours to spend in revisions, limit yourself to one chapter a day. Microize your normal writing goals.
5) When company leaves, and there are sheets to wash, floors to mop, toilets to scrub, mountains of laundry to do, etc., don’t forget to work back up to your normal daily writing schedule. W.E.D: Write Every Day. (Rats! Another made up word. I sure hope that isn’t some acronym for a porno site. No time to look it up.)
I couldn’t pass up passing on this YouTube video I found on Kristin Nelson’s blog (from Nelson Literary Agency, LLC). It reminds me of the Sound of Music video in Union Station a year or so ago.
Today may prove to be a record-breaking heat day for this area. I’ve closed all the windows to keep in the early morning coolness, but haven’t yet turned on the air. It just seems too early in the year to do so. Besides, I find a bit of perspiration and being uncomfortable helpful to me as a writer.
Once, I was writing a chapter about kids traveling through a desert. The more I typed, the hotter and more thirsty I became. There I was, typing on the computer, while sweat dripped off of me. I kept thinking, “Wow! I must be one terrific writer to imagine things so vividly that I’m physically getting hotter and hotter.” I’d been typing for a few hours, closed up in the den, when I finally got up to take a break and get a drink of water. It was only then that I realized it was 100 degrees outside, and I hadn’t turned on the air conditioner.
Did I turn on the air conditioner at that moment, you ask? No, I did not. I finished the chapter first, taking note of all my hotness and putting it into words.
This week I caught up on some ancient reading history. I read a couple of Newberry books from the 1960’s.
Okay. I know this epiphany should not at all surprise me, but it did. Before these latest reads, I’d been doing what “everyone” says to do — read the latest books in the field in which I want to get published to see what IS getting published out there today. There are many great reads. Too many books, too little time. However, I noticed that in the books of the ’60’s the main characters experienced a lot of what main characters in today’s writing world do, too. (There is nothing new under the sun.) Only, back then, the kids were fifteen years old or older; today’s main characters who do the same actions are nine or ten years old.
This can only mean that in another fifty years, we will be reading of two and three year olds fighting off villans with mad sword skills, and dashing through streets or forests to rescue the fair maidens in distress or find the enormous lost treasure. Good thing I’ll be dead by then.
An ancient time ago, when I was in grad school, one of the touchy-feely things we did in class one day was that each student was given “a million dollars” to spend on a select number of items for which we had to bid. Some of the items included material things, like cars and boats and houses. Some included less tangible things, like a best friend who always listened to you, or good health. Most of the students in the class spread their money over ten or fifteen things.
I looked over the list and looked over my funny money. I ended up putting it all on only three items. First, I gave away 1/10 of the money as a tithe. Secondly, I chose to buy an island. Several others bid on the island, too, but had spread their money too thin. Yeah! I bought myself my first-ever (and only-ever) island. Yeah!
The second thing I bid on for nearly half a million dollars, was to never have to bathe again. When my hand quickly shot up for the bid, those closest to me scooted their chairs away. Seems I only needed to spend one dollar of funny money, since no one else bid on that particular item. I didn’t regret it, though. I felt it was (would be) well worth it. But because I could tell my fellow students were mentally putting me in an entirely different class of animal from them, my social awareness kicked in and I felt I needed to defend my choice.
“Oh, you all just thought it meant never taking a shower or bath again,” I said. “I wouldn’t need to spend half a million dollars to do that.” I laughed lightly. No one else joined in. I swallowed and continued. “What I’m buying for that amount of money is a machine, a machine where in about two minutes, I could walk through each morning and be washed, shampooed, makeup-ed, and dried and hair styled. I hate wasting a necessary hour or more each day to do that. In just one week, I’d have about 7 hours free which I didn’t have before. What I’m really buying for my half a mill is seven free hours each week.”
With that explanation, nearly everyone in class nodded and grunted an affirmation of the length of time taken to do one’s toiletry every morning. I felt relieved that they felt relieved. Explainations are a good thing.
Sure, they agreed with the time factor, but none of them moved back any closer to me for the rest of the class time.
This past week I heard a sermon on spiritual disciplines. One of the suggested spiritual disciplines was simplicity. (Oh, ouchie, ouchie, ouchie. <– Picture me dancing barefoot along a line of red-hot coals.)
However did my life become so complicated? There was a time, driving three states away to my first teaching job, when I’d packed all my earthly possessions into my little Pinto. Today, my husband and I agree that the only reason we don’t get divorced is the threat that whoever files for it, has to take all the stuff we’ve accumulated over 30+ years. (Well… maybe that’s not the ONLY reason, but whatever works.)
So how does all this relate to writing? The whole point of the simplicity section of the sermon was that with simplicity comes focus. (Oh, ouchie, ouchie, ouchie.) Simplicity is more than just throwing out that second lawn mower in the garage which no longer works. It is more than letting go of a time-sucking commitment. It is more than being able to work on eight different manuscripts “at the same time.” It is a lifestyle.
A writing acquaintance posted on a listserv how she’s finished writing and publishing 500 manuscripts. Yeah and congratulations — seriously.
I wonder, though, if I were to die tomorrow (or today), which of my “500” unpublished manuscripts will ever catch anyone’s eye and make an impact? (BTW, I have published about 150 magazine and newspaper articles, and have received positive reader comments. So perhaps it’s possible that I can make mini-impacts.)
A poll has shown that in every income bracket, people want to be on the average, 20% richer than they are. If they get 20% richer than they were, they may be happy for a while, but it is short-lived, as they then want to be 20% richer. I can relate that to publication, too. I will always want to be 20% more published.
Paul Goble was once asked at a library presentation I attended, what was the favorite of all his books. His answer: “Always the one I’m working on.” Brilliant. Simple. Focus.
Now… to go shred more of those checks from the 1980’s. Not to worry. I’ll throw them into my compost pile, then spread the further broken down checks around my flowers and veggies, then let their nourishment float up through the plant roots. Then I’ll eat them! Sounds complicatedly simple, right?
(Maybe I just need more sleep.)
To reward my 5 hours of revising and critiquing today, I went outside in the MARVELOUS afternoon sunshine, and built me a 6′ snowman. THEN I put a sign on it, challenging the neighborhood to a Snowperson Contest. (I’ve seen several stoppers & lookers so far — tee-hee.) At the bottom of the sign, I wrote that their snow person had to be seen from the road, so I would be able to tell if anyone did it. So far, mine is the only snowman in our neighborhood. I can hardly wait till the weekend to see if I’ve got any takers.
I did this (made a snowman) for several reasons: I work for rewards; I like making/creating things; I like making things out of snow; the temp was perfect snowball-making snow; I LOVE being outside, especially in the sun; and, the last time I made a snowman (last month, in fact) I pulled a muscle in my arm carrying the middle ball, so just wanted to prove to myself that I could get right back up on the snow horse and ride her without fear.
I did this (Snowperson Challenge) for several reasons: I wanted to send a message to my neighbors that it’s fun to be outside; I really wanted neighborhood kids who would rather video game inside, to take up the challenge and spend some time in the great wintery out-of-doors; I thought it would be way-cool if our neighborhood had snowmen on every other yard; and, doing a neighborhood event/challenge like this makes me feel closer to my neighbors, whether they build snowpeople or not, whether they hibernate or not.
So… what rewards do YOU give yourself for successful writing times?
I feel deflated and defeated and that de-big-guys squash me. It reminds me of the story of an elderly woman who took her canary to the vet, explaining he no longer sings.
“Did you leave the window open? Have you gotten new pets or had visitors? Has anything usual happened?”
“No. No. And no. I just don’t understand it.”
“When did he stop singing?”
“The last time I cleaned his cage.”
“What happened then?”
“I decided to clean the bottom of the cage with the vacuum cleaner. Well, Birdie flew down to investigate, and got sucked up. I thought I’d killed him, but when I cut open the bag, I found him covered with dust, but still breathing — just barely. So I took him and put him under the water faucet and washed him off real good. Then I used a hair drier to dry his feathers. He looks fine, but he hasn’t sung since that day.”