I will really get down to business after the holidays, of course. I just didn't factor in this festive time of year when I made my decision to go balls-out on the book front.
To no one's surprise, I haven't written one word for the book. Well, that's not entirely true...I've jotted several notes and sent myself a glut of emails with a word or phrase or picture of what I intend to write later.
I've been leaving a trail of snapshots my entire life.
Terri, much to her dismay, has witnessed them as scribbles on the back of a receipt or torn envelope that I will not allow her to throw away. Today the snapshots are usually electronic and the pile has grown in proportion to the ease and accessibility of being able to capture every random thought the instant it strikes.
It's not that I'm not working. The words are always there — balm or poison depending on the moment. That's why there are so many snapshots. I've always felt that meditation on and the recording of the snapshots counted as work — as writing. And thanks to a wonderful writer who shared themselves and their process at the Jackson Hole Writer's Conference last June, my method — and my stance that it is work — has been validated.
She was like a force of nature, and there was no way to get out of her path. I'd enjoyed and appreciated every speaker and workshop facilitator I'd seen so far, but when Jewel Parker Rhodes took the stage and opened her mouth I fell in love.
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Right away I knew Jewel was different — and I recognized the kind of storyteller I could only hope to become. Every speaker and mentor at the conference was there to encourage the struggling sapling of a writer that was striving toward the sunlight of their wisdom, experience and success. Advice was the order of the day. And it was good advice. There were enough similarities from one author to the next that it was easy to discern the habits of highly successful writers. The number one commandment seemed to be "Thou shalt write every day." That wasn't a new one for me. My high school newspaper adviser (and beloved mentor and cheerleader) had taught us the same thing in our Intensive Journalistic Writing course. It was a pilot AP course and because we had one of the top high school newspapers in the country (yeah, that's right — in little, old Idaho Falls!) we got to take it for a test run.
Part of the course was keeping a journal. We had to write in it every day. And by every day, I mean Every. Fucking. Day.
"A concert pianist doesn't become a concert pianist without practicing every single day," Mr. Bennet would say. "To become a great writer you have to put in the same practice."
That meant even weekends and school holidays had to be recorded in the journal, which you would turn in to him twice per term for critique and a grade. Skipped days counted against you and there was no acceptable excuse other than loss of limb (legs didn't count) that would excuse a missing entry.
It seemed tedious, even for me, and I am known to state that I sprang forth from the womb with a pen in hand and a story to tell.
To help us out Mr. Bennett came up with a variety of writing exercises and prompts. The most memorable involved a piece of fruit. He bestowed upon each of us a fresh piece of fruity goodness. I got a peach. We had to write about our little piece of paradise for one full week — seven days. We were to watch it and describe it as time, oxygen and the odd bite took their toll. It's not quite the same as taking care of an egg for a week to teach you about the consequences of surrendering to your teenage hormones, but it comes pretty close.
Being present with that peach as it started to wrinkle, sag and attract fruit flies became something I looked forward to. It was amazing to witness the tiny alterations that occurred every 24 hours. It's startling what you can discover when you're forced to pay attention.
That exercise, more than anything else, made me a true believer in the benefits of writing every day. Over the years there have been times when I'm better at maintaining that discipline than others. These days I write pretty much every day for my work. In fact, I bring home enough bacon from writing that I was able to leave my corporate career woman persona behind and do nothing else.
When I first started to realize that writing could actually be my full-time gig I was giddy. Writing every day and getting paid to do it was a dream come true. My stress level is sort of non-existent. My commute is from wherever my body is currently planted to the nearest cup of coffee or glass of wine.
But, greedy creature that I am, I want more.
My true calling is to actually write a book. A whole book — with an author's forward and an epilogue and everything in between. I've started many. I've finished none.
This is where the carving out of the time comes in. I had been writing and teaching online. Between the two I just couldn't bring myself to consistently set aside any additional time to work on "The Book." Hence the carving out of the time. I figured I could just swap out the teaching time for book time and then I would have no excuse.
Enter Christmas. The Holidays. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Everyone knows that The Holidays are no time to take on additional or new work. There's enough to worry about when it comes to conjuring Christmas magic and decking the halls without trying to write a frickin' book — Am I right?
Of course I'm right.
Which brings me back to the exquisite Madam Jewel.
"I know I'm supposed to tell you that I write every day," she said with a sneaky smile teasing the corners of her lips. "But I don't."
Wait — stop the presses, hold the phone, hit the rewind button; whatever it takes to ensure me that I heard what I just heard. It wouldn't have made any difference to me if she stopped right there. This was a revelation. This was mutiny. This was NOT the way to be a writer. And this confession gave me hope.
"I spend a lot of time thinking," Jewel continued. "I think a lot about what I'm writing. I ponder. I take a walk or cook dinner or share a laugh and the whole time I'm plotting and pondering about how to capture this in words or how it helps me frame a narrative, breathe life into a character, or capture authenticity.
"I count thinking time as work. I may not be physically writing, but I'm writing."
Hallelujah! I'm pretty sure I heard choirs of angels breaking into song and heralding these good tidings.
I may not be typing or scratching out actual pages every day that make my manuscript grow, but — Christmas or no Christmas — thanks to the incessant voices in my head I am sure as hell writing.