Today is Tuesday, one of my two “writing days” out of each week. I have to assign writing days so that I will actually use them to work on my book rather than get carried away by other things.
Today, I sat down with two ideas I’ve been toying with. Two different characters and a moment of them looking back at how things have been, comparing them to the way things are at present, a way they didn’t foresee and aren’t quite sure what to do with. Both of these characters are standing on the precipice, full of potential energy. They’re horses in the starting gate, waiting for the doors to open. But this moment of waiting is important, and I want to linger, because it lays the foundation of all that has been, a foundation of all that will be.
And when I sat down with computer in my lap, coffee at my side, I stared for a good while. I used all the tricks I know: focusing. Closing my Internet windows. Re-reading what I’ve already written to kick the voice back to the forefront of my mind. But for some reason, it’s not taking today. And I’m running out of time.
My friend Leslie and I recently talked about what it means to be a burst writer. There are those who can sustain writing everyday. Perhaps they wake with the sun, or they carve out an hour in the afternoon just to write. That’s what MFA school was like. During my thesis year, I wrote pretty much everyday. I cried a lot. I spun my wheels in frustration, and because I had nothing else to do, I just hammered each story further into the ground until they were unrecognizable stains on the earth, and then I cried more for my inability to resurrect them.
Cooking helped. Cooking busied my hands so my mind could open up and breathe. Cooking gave me something to do besides hammering stories into oblivion.
I’m not one the kind of writer who can do this everyday. I need other things to do – a job, a project, etc. – to take me away from it so I can think. And after so much thinking, I need several hours to sit alone and type. When I get that time of sitting down and typing out the story, I might write two or three chapters at a shot. And then I’ll repeat the process.
I used to feel bad about that – about being a burst writer. I thought it meant I was immature or doomed to a book-less life, or lazy or aimless or so completely wrong about my faith in being a writer. But that seems wrong. Do lawyers feel bad about being a certain kind of lawyer? Do priests or pastors or rabbis feel bad about having a certain approach to carrying out their duties with their congregations? Do dancers feel bad about having a particular style; like, I’m a ballet dancer, but I really should probably be a salsa dancer? That seems silly. So why do I do it?
I think about the vegetable garden Amanda and I are growing. We started a patch of sweet potatoes in June, a patch that has now transformed from a sad little row of seedlings to a bed of leafy vines, dotted with purple flowers.
I think about the garden out back, the one we started last week. Our green beans are shooting up so fast, which makes us excited. Our row of kale is slow to start, a dainty little row of green that, at first glance, might look like clover or basil, and our leeks are taking their time. They have to. As much as we might want to wake up one morning and find a fully-grown, healthy vegetable garden, we won’t. The plants have to have time to grow.
I watch my cat, Otis, play a lot while I’m writing. Once he realizes I’m not going to snuggle with him or play with him, he goes and gets one of the fuzzy balls from his toy basket and brings it into my office. He bats it around, chases after it, chews and shakes it before slinking away with it. He usually takes it to his food bowl where I like to think he knows he can come back to it. It will be waiting for him. He’s saving it for later.
And in a lot of ways, I think I sometimes have to do that. I scribble a line in my journal, or I sit and stare and think. But I have to have that time of thinking and staring and scribbling and considering because without it, I’ll end up hammering this novel into oblivion.
There’s great comfort that comes in knowing what kind of [insert name of your profession here] you are, and once you know it, accepting it, embracing it, living it out. I’m a burst writer. I’m a sweet potato vine. I’m a green bean. I’m a cat playing with her toy. And that’s okay.