Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Gift ... and the Challenge ... of Time

Today is the first official day of fall, my favorite season.  Even the depressing darkness of November (in Maine we lose the sunlight by 4:30 pm in that bleak month) brings certain delights:  wood stove fires; roasts; hot cider.  Though I'll be almighty sick of snow and ice come March, the first cold snap in September thrills me. We pick apples and eat donuts (a food I shun the rest of the year), conduct the hat and mitten inventory, resurrect favorite sweaters. I love the slant of the sun this time of year, even when it's a driving hazard heading west at rush hour, and the low, persistent whine of crickets. True, I don't love the spiders who migrate into my basement office as the weather cools, and all those need-to-be-raked leaves on the lawn stress me out, but the rest of it? Wonderful.

This fall, I find myself in the Disneyland of All Things Autumnal:  Vermont.  The stars have aligned in such a way that I have several weeks of what I can only describe as a Writer's Retreat in Vermont, and I have nothing ... absolutely nothing ... to do besides feed myself, observe the changing foliage, feed the cats (more about them, later) and write.  It's a little mind blowing, to be honest.  A surfeit of riches I never imagined.  A novelist's dream come true.  Acres and acres of uninterrupted hours to be wildly creative, stopping only for a brief hike up to Robert Frost's cabin (yes indeed it's around the corner) or getting up from the desk to toss another log on the fire.  Amazing.  Just amazing.

And utterly frightening.

For the first time in my life I have absolutely no excuses for not getting my work done.  And oh, I love my excuses.  They are the salve I apply when distraction, laziness, insecurity, and overall professional brattiness set in.  Of course I can't get to writing, my kids need me this morning!  Of course I haven't started that novel I'm painting the house!  How could I be writing when I need to get dinner on the table/visit my sick friend/walk the dog/etc./etc. 

But it's more than that.  Sometimes this just feels hard.  Sometimes I hate my characters and I'm so completely bored with their lives (aka my story) that I fantasize about a factory line job.  I've had those jobs.  Back when I was in high school, scraping together a few bucks in any way possible, and let me tell you: they are amazing.  As long as you stay alert enough to avoid losing a finger, you can mentally drift all day and still collect a paycheck at the end of the week.  In the writing business, you can concentrate until your head pounds and still not get paid for two years.  And at the end of it, you have reviews to look forward to, but don't get me started on that.

Writing a book is a pregnancy that lasts years, followed by a very long labor without an epidural, and might still require a C-section.  Add to that someone is bound to say, "Your baby's ugly," when it's all over and you gotta wonder:  why?  For God's sake, why?

This is the part of the blog post where I'm supposed to seque into the joys of the creative life ... but no.  No pablum today.  The joys do not outweigh the aggravation.  Writing and publishing a book does not change your life (unless you make a ton of money, but ha! to that) and even after the rush of opening the box when those first volumes arrive, one is still someone's wife and mother and dog owner and daughter and sister and if you weren't already satisfied with all that, well ... that box of books isn't going to help you.

You do this because you can't help yourself.  Because even if writing doesn't make you incredibly happy, not writing makes you unbearable even to yourself.

So here I am, with this amazing gift of time, no excuses: and I'm between books.  Yup.  And that's the positive spin: between books.  It implies another one is on the way.  It's actually more like this:  interested friendly people ask me, "What are you writing now?" and I have to stop myself from grabbing them by the shoulders and shaking them and screaming hysterically, "Nothing!  Absolutely nothing! And I don't know where to start or what to do! What should I do?"

This does not engender further conversation.  It does not solidify friendship.  Most importantly, it does not get the writing done.  The only thing that gets the writing done and the next story written is Nike wisdom:  Just Do It.

So for the next ten days, and then again in October for another block of days, I'm in full retreat. From excuses. From insecurity.  Because no matter what came before, it always comes back to this: the blank page.

Today, Day One of my Amazing Vermont Writing Adventure, I began with a ten-minute Peter Elbow exercise (his book, "Writing Without Teachers" is my bible) followed by a brisk walk to the food co-op where I purchased a Red Hen Bakery organic baguette, Vermont Cheddar, and apples for lunch, all the way thinking about the fellow who emerged during the Peter Elbow exercise.  I decided to blog, put it out there, so to speak, about the No Excuses Plan to Get Working and Find Your Next Book, and after posting this I'm going to start that chapter I imagined during the walk.  I usually do this sort of writing warm up with my dog, but she's still in Maine.  However, this place where I'm staying has cats.  Very independent cats who must be lured indoors at night by shaking bags of kittie treats.  Something for me to get used to ... but I'm happy for the company.

Meanwhile, there's been some joy:  I made a pilgrimage to The Flying Pig independent bookstore (recently named best bookstore for kids in 2013 by Yankee Magazine!) in Shelburne, Vermont yesterday where I found they had one of my books in their YA section (I left them with a signed copy of Out of Nowhere so perhaps they'll carry that one, too.) This is a fabulous indie; check them out.  They had my friend Stephen Kiernan's book, The Curiosity, prominently displayed. Yay. Visited the harvest festival at Shelburne Farms yesterday, followed by dinner at Jessica's restaurant in Middlebury.

Okay.  To work.