The Writer's Ordinary Time
Well, I’m back now from the various travels associated with publishing a new book. It all went well. I met some wonderful people, including Dame Margaret Drabble (who is delightful), “Handsome” Colum McCann, Kevin Bass, Seth and his wife Tania, Charlotte Grey and on and on . . . lots of terrific readers. Wonderful festival organizers.
The lights have dimmed, the crowds (snort) departed, the activity stilled. I return to ordinary time, made even stiller than usual because I’ve just sent off the draft of my upcoming novel to my editors and await their feedback. I’ve probably got a few weeks before it comes back to me. So . . . tap, tap, tap . . . what to do?
When I am not writing I can be irritable and unsettled. It’s as though I’m a marionette and one of the strings attached to the crossbar has been cut, or the length’s been fiddled with and I’m all jerky and out of alignment. True, there is the lure of a MAMMOTH pile of unread books, and spending hours diving into that will be a joy. There are also the responsibilities associated with running a monthly writing workshop. There is The Rescuepoo to walk and feed and play with. There are even some friends to see — whom I’ve been neglecting lately. But still, there is a niggling little tug. Write. Write. A short story or two? Yes, possibly. I’d like to get back to that. Writing short stories, for me, uses a different part of the brain than that used for novels. I should exercise it a little.
But the truth is, I feel a bit lost when I’m not working on a big writing project.
I met a young woman recently, a well-published poet, who said she isn’t writing. When I asked why, she said the idea of writing fills her will disgust. She has nothing to say and, she said, even if she did, she doesn’t want to say it. She feels no impulse to write. In fact, she feels an aversion. She doesn’t know if she’ll write again.
I said I quite envied her. Although I love my writing life, there are times when the need to write feels exhausting and I would like to simply be, without the nagging feeling I’m letting my side down, if you know what I mean. The image I use for my compulsion to write is that of a huge mastiff dog. The dog wants to be walked. NOW. It’s sleeting and icy and pitch black out. Really filthy weather. The fire is warm. The cup of tea is at hand. The book I’m reading is fantastic. But there stands the dog, whining, leash in mouth, giving me that look. You know the one: If you don’t walk me now, I’m going to eat the couch and pee on your chair. I try to ignore the dog. More whining. A low growl. Enormous paw on my knee. Not now, dog. I want to just sit and enjoy the fire and the book and the tea. The dog eyes the couch. Drools a little. And so on. In the end, it’s easier to just walk the damn dog.
And so it is with writing. Try as I might to ignore the urge, I can’t settle until I’ve done my words for the day. Only then does the dog lie down and my feet and let us both relax.
But my young poet friend said she envied me. She would like to feel compelled to write. She would like to know it is what she’s meant to do. That would give her life form and meaning.
Ah, yes. There is that. And so, like all writers — emerging and seasoned, young and old, hacks and geniuses and everyone in between — in the end we write. And, after posting this, I’ll only have approximately four hundred more words to go for the day!
Keep writing. You’re not alone.
hi Lauren, given your way with words, there are many of us who are happy you have a compulsion to write. We’re hoping it stays that way! cheers, Irene
Thanks, Irene. Good to know, especially on days when I’m dragging my butt to the page! 😉
Hello Lauren, I just heard about your novel, The Empty Room (which I thought was brilliant), was just named by Amazon as on of the Best Books of 2013. Wow! Now this must be incredibly motivating to keep writing – isn’t it? Angela
Thanks so much, Angela. I’m really pleased about making that list and being in such great company. And I’m sure my publisher is happy, too, which means I hope they’ll keep publishing me! That’s motivating for sure!
Lauren, engaging with so many other established authors sounds like fun, but I would imagine there can also be lots of egos to deal with. I can relate to the irritability you describe, which comes from not getting the words on the page. Thanks for this interesting essay. Sandra
Thanks, Sandra. It’s true that the ego-overload can be a bit draining, but on the other hand, meeting people like Dame Margaret Drabble, and Dan Vyleta and Craig Davidson and Louise Dougherty and “Handsome” Colum McCann and Charlotte Gray and Kevin Bass . . . and many others, is such a pleasure, it more than makes up for the occasional unpleasantness.
But yes, no matter what, getting the words down is all the matters. We keep writing, yes?
I enrolled in a writing course a couple of years ago, hoping that I would use it to spur my desire to write. However, my perfectionistic and procrastination riddled general make up, coupled with my general proclivity for laziness, keeps me from pursuing that which I think, if properly attempted, I could be relatively decent at! (How’s that for a run-on sentence!) I admire your “dog” and find that I must settle for reading the splendid words of the writing addicted folk, such as yourself!! I await the trade paperback version of The Empty Room (why must it take a year for books to come out in trade version??) and am happy to hear that plans are afoot for yet another LBD masterpiece!!
Thanks, Melanie. Yes, I have yet to find a way to make the books write themselves. We have to do the work. 😉
As to the trade paperback — in these days of dwindling publishing returns, the publisher hope a book might sell well in the hard cover version. They make a little more profit from that edition and in order to stay in business, they need every penny. It’s a rough world for publishers and writers alike, I’m afraid. But the paperback will be in stores at the end of May.
What a fun essay on the tug to write. Very useful. I will show it to my wife who is wonderfully supportive of my writing, but from time to time I know she has to stretch to appreciate it, like when I keep thinking out loud bits of a story.
But now I have the mastiff to explain it for me. And everyone loves dogs, don’t they?
Well, David, if they don’t love dogs they should!