I’m currently working on a Meg Langslow book on a tighter-than-usual deadline. When I agreed to take on the project, I resigned myself to the idea that I was setting myself up for a pretty miserable, stressful few months. I apologized in advance to some of my friends for the antisocial grouch I’d have to become. And to some of the people I work with in volunteer organizations for the fact that I might not be as productive as usual. With a sigh, I accepted that I wouldn’t be doing as much gardening this spring, which would probably mean diminished beauty in my yard for the rest of the season—diminished, not totally absent, because I go in as much as possible for perennials that repay your up front investment of planting time with beauty for years.
So I set my daily quotas, I warned the world that I was about to become Grumpy Recluse Writer, and I sat down at the keyboard to begin the long, yet all-too-short, and bound-to-be painful process of writing this book.
To my astonishment, it hasn’t been as painful as I expected. Oh, there are all the usual pains and problems, and I’m sure I’ll have to do at least the usual amount of rewriting and polishing and general cleanup. But overall, the process hasn’t been worse than usual. Maybe a little better. And that’s mainly because I’m getting a lot better at just doing it.
Too bad Nike has already taken and probably copyrighted that tag line. If they hadn’t, some writer’s organization should, because "just do it" is probably the best and most down-to-earth advice anyone can give a writer.
So lately, if I wake up and can’t get back to sleep, instead of doing the usual things I do to cope with insomnia, I stumble downstairs and start writing. Never mind that I’m profoundly not in the mood to do anything, much less writing. Never mind that I usually have no idea what I’m going to write next. Never mind that I’m not even quite conscious yet. I’ve been telling people for years that the secret to writing was application—applying the seat of the pants to the chair. (And until just now, I never knew who originally said it, but I just did some research: the otherwise-unknown-to-me Mary Heaton Vorse.) Anyway, I followed her and my own advice—not, I hasten to add, for the first time, but it never fails to astonish me how well this particular bit of advice works. I sat, I started typing, words emerged on the computer screen, and wonder of wonders, the book moved forward. I just wrote.
And the rest of my life hasn’t come to a standstill. I’m probably in the doghouse with my volunteer organizations, but not too badly. My friends haven’t seen as much of me lately, but they haven’t forgotten what I look like. I’ve kept the book going in spite of having other projects on my plate, like helping my mother start what we hope will turn from a trial stay to permanent residence in a retirement community near me, and doing a lot of househunting for my brother and sister-in-law’s projected move to the area. I’ve even gotten a reasonable amount of gardening done. The house isn’t a total mess. I know I don't have time to weep and wail over how busy I am. I just do things.
Of course, something had to give. What I haven’t done much of is reading, because I’ve been walking around with the book in my head even more than usual. Not all a writer’s work is done at the keyboard, and those hours at the keyboard flow better, with better results, if my brain is chewing away on the project between keyboard sessions. If I test drive dialogue on my way to the grocery store, think over what I’ve done while pottering in the garden, and fret for a few moments over some knotty problem before going to sleep, I come back to the keyboard that much better prepared to write.
When I first started writing seriously, I thought what I needed was quality time. Big, sweeping stretches of it. If I had anything else looming ahead of me that day, it cast its shadow over the writing time ahead of me, and I felt less able to focus on the writing. I still feel that way sometimes, but I’ve learned to recognize that as a trap. One of the ways the lazy part of your mind sabotages your writing. Oh, I can't write, I've only got an hour. Well, an hour's better than nothing. In fact, sometimes I get less done on days when I have the luxury of nothing else to do, and can be more productive when there’s something else looming that I have to do or want to do when I finish my writing.
I’m not sure which I find more reassuring: to find that after twelve books the writing process is getting perhaps a little bit easier, or to realize that after twelve books, there are still things I can learn about it.
I’d go on but . . . I have this book to write.