Through the Thicket

One of the advantages of having far too much to do is that, having pushed on, head down, like a boar through the thicket, you sometimes suddenly emerge onto a clear, sunlit plain.  Mid-August to late-September for me is always tangled with bureaucratic extras that take far more time to get through than anything I have to do for the benefit of my students, but this September included a few unanticipated deadfalls and snares, including one that has quite literally lamed me and slowed my progress still further.  I’m still recovering from that injury, but today I looked up to see the glimmer of light through a final stand of trees.

Just this moment, I’m taking time to pause, to lift my head, to blink in wonder at the sun, and to look back at the darkness I’ve come through.  What lies ahead are a clear Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and (if I’m lucky) half of a Monday–all for me, which means all for writing.

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All A-Scramble

The first few weeks of every semester are always over-stuffed with data production and meetings (often about data production) and classes, of course.  Dozens of little ships have to be launched–and launched, somehow, without crashing into each other.

But Fall semester at least has a blessing Spring semester can’t boast:  Labor Day weekend!

I’m working extra long days all this week so I can sequester the holiday weekend for writing, because, after nine days away (and five more to come), I miss my characters.

Writing this feels a little like sending them a post card that says, “Home soon.”

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A Thousand Selves

CS Lewis quote. When I was a very little girl, I was frustrated by the confusion of the many things I wanted to be–a ship’s captain, Jane Goodall, an actress, a singer, a veterinarian, a jockey, a horse-trainer, a farmer–and then, one day, sitting on the floor of the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library, surrounded by books I’d pulled from the shelf, agonizing over which I would choose to borrow, since my stacks included far more than my permitted quota, I had a revelation similar to what C.S. Lewis said about being a reader.   Suddenly I understood that, if I became a writer, I could be all the things I’d ever dreamed of being–as often or as occasionally as I liked, singly or several mixed together, for the rest of my life.

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Nope. Not Doing It. I’m Not Leaving My Cave

I have to get back to full-time teaching in a couple of weeks, but already I’ve made up my mind that I’ll be sticking as close as possible to my writing cave, venturing out only when absolutely necessary.  Characters are chattering at me when I’m drinking my coffee, walking my dog, shopping for groceries, driving my car, or trying to relax by reading or watching a movie–and yesterday, I had a flash of the closing image, the very last moment in the story.  Lately there have been so many light bulbs firing off in my brain I’m surprised my neighbors haven’t complained about the nuisance.

For the last week, when I’ve had to stop writing for the day–simply from exhaustion–I’ve been working on class syllabi, uploading PDFs, and tending to other bits of time-gobbling trivia it takes to get classes going.  I’ve also plotted a work-map for the semester.  With its days and chunks of days blocked out for writing, it is no doubt idealized and impossible, but it helps to aim high.

Or maybe I should say, aim to stay high.  I’m counting on those blocks of time to draw me back, irresistibly, like a lodestone–back to this story, these people, who have taken over my soul.

Now…they’re talking again, so, if you’ll excuse me…

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One Page a Day

Thanks to the dates on the ruminations I sometimes post here, I made a curious discovery this morning.  During this writing summer, which has a few more weeks to go, I’ve been averaging a page a day.

That doesn’t sound like much, I know, and there have been times in my writing life when such a realization would have paralyzed me with despair–especially when I’ve been writing for hours almost every day for two months.  Is that ALL? my chastising self would scream at me.

Actually, though, I find this number really satisfying. A page a day.

The pages I’m counting are what I call my stable pages.  These are the pages that will, I believe, wind up in the finished novel, mostly in their present form.  There will be refinements, of course, plenty of tinkering with words, but the pages are stable because they’re telling me things I know are true for my characters–deeply true. True not just about what happens but why it happens and why it can only happen as it does because of who the characters are.

To get to my average of one page a day, I’ve written many more–somewhere between twice and three times as many if I count only what I’ve actually typed and not the pages I’ve written only in my head or jotted down as a few sentences here, a paragraph there.  This knowledge, too, gives me a strange kind of peace.

It also gives me hope as the new fall semester looms–the time when I’ll have to turn most of my attention back to teaching.  All day long I’ve been thinking that if I could average two pages a week–two stable pages–during the school year, that would be just fine.  More than fine.  It would be splendid!

It’s possible, truly possible, I’m telling myself, because now I really know where the story’s going.  (This wasn’t the case last fall.) And, thankfully, 3/4 of my teaching schedule for the coming academic year will be online, a situation that allows me greater flexibility in corralling my day-job tasks into long, long hours of uninterrupted work and leave one or two, sometimes three, mornings free out of every seven.   (This, too, was not the case all last year.)

Most summers, I fall into depression right around this time, as I lament that my writing summer is nearly over–lament so much I’m liable to waste the time that remains.  But this realization of my page a day gives me courage.  A page a day!


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