Mother, Writer… the house is a mess but no one’s died yet


I did not write or revise as much as I should have last week. I had one of those weeks where we get overly preoccupied with waiting for responses.

Unfortunately, I’ve arrived at summer ready to rock at the same time the rest of the world (myself included, in many ways) is embracing summer’s doldrums. In our own ways, all of us are lolling by the pool with a mojito, or floating in the lake, minted ice tea in one hand, other dragging in marvel at the cool swirling water.

As restful as it is, summer is key work time for me, with fewer expectations on my hours than any other time in the year. I’ve been thrilled to feel my novel in progress vividly playing out in my mind, coming to the page as it needs to, as are revisions to previous works in the wings.

But I’ve been impatient, jumpy with that unnamed energy you get when you’ve put work out there and are waiting to hear back. Normal submission replies, sure, and then there’s the story out to an editor who has always praised my work, which, according to Duotrope, is lingering a good 40 days longer than other replies are taking. Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve checked the submission managers once or twice.

Clearly, last week’s impatience had to find direction.

I put the energy to use by playing with online resources. I’ve been a twitter skeptic, but found it useful, clicking links or following threads which unearthed articles and resources I’d have had no reason to discover otherwise. (I also find it amusing to feed twitter random lines from my work, eerily disembodied or meaning even changed, once reduced to 140 characters.)

I followed leads that helped me discover new publications or update information on ones I’d fallen out of touch with. I read some great work, and enjoyed sharing links for a few of these, and downloaded a couple writers’ books via Kindle. I submitted work to a couple of the magazines I’d discovered/rediscovered, and calendared reading dates for those I want to submit to when reading opens again in August or September. Yeah, I rechecked submission managers a few more times, but enjoyed more connecting with writers, editors, agents and others in the business, in that water cooler way that twitter and facebook afford, that is nearly impossible without the virtual world.

But… at a certain point, I was still hyper puppy.

I wrote a blog, which I’d lapsed doing since December. I wrote a new story start while at the pool with my boys. But new starts are another distraction when you have work to finish. We’d been at my dad’s for father’s day which had me off-line, but also no writing while we visited.

Coming back Monday, it was time to declare a no-interruptions mode.

The meditative hour of driving back from my dad’s, through grazing lands and orchards beneath that broad, blue Florida sky, had loosened thoughts I’d not yet developed about the main character in the main novel I’ve been working on, the one whose characters tended to lean against the counters, arms crossed in an attempt at patience when my morning or evening were taken over with cooking for my sons.  (The mother character might get on quietly with her own business, in her silent way, but he would be unbending. Did I really need to marinate before grilling? Did I need to make spaghetti from scratch; did I not know these things were available in pre-made forms? Had I not considered take out? Better yet, fast food? He is an impatient soul, fuming, but I forgive him considering the answer of his life or death awaits my piecing together those patches of draft saved in multiple Word docs. Get on with it, he rightfully urges.)

It was the mother I’d written least about, and on my drive home, a single image was surfacing of her waiting for the mail, then switching to a new hobby at the point she believed her lover dead and no longer able to write.

“Give me one hour,” I told my sons, when we arrived home.

I set a timer, threatened the pain of no trip to a store they’d asked to go to if they spoke to me once before it went off: “Don’t interrupt unless you’re bleeding or on fire.”

I put on headphones and music to block distraction.

I opened my add-on draft and let her speak to me. The mother wanted to tell me about the meaning of waiting for flowers to bloom. To get there, that one hour gave me 1700 words about the months after her son was born, an odd fog of experience that put on paper things I’d never thought how to express before.

There would be a need, later in the novel, for some justification of her actions, but this little chunk of text accomplished authentically, with one short revelation, what might otherwise have taken reams of less effective explanation. I love that kind of writing more than any other.

I claimed another hour later to expand on it. My mind was again wholeheartedly present in the novel, her dreams and nightwaking thoughts appearing a vivid blue-green haze so that I understood fully how the final bridge would take place, from that moment of action, to this of reflection, to how they were about to play out. Netflix, you’re no competition to watching a novel spin out in my mind.

Kudos go in part to last week’s internet distractions.

That surfing has its place, as do all the administrative distractions, in the overall business of writing. Motivation to claim that hour to write was actually spurred by an article I came across during my hyper-twit hours: Novelist Mary McNamara’s A working mother’s guide to writing a novel (LA Times). As a mom with sons home for the summer during my key writing months, her advice hit home.

Disciplined hours here and there have given me 9,700 words that needed to be written in the past two weeks. Hopefully the boys will not be bleeding or on fire any time soon, as it’s nearly time to lace all these bits of draft together, and see how close this new novel is to done.

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5 Comments

Filed under Novel Writing, Seeking Publication, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Mother

5 responses to “Mother, Writer… the house is a mess but no one’s died yet

  1. I really enjoyed this, Elissa! Made me feel liberated along with you!

  2. This is great, Elissa. Plus, your tag line at the top — that is precisely how I feel. “Mother, Writer… the house is a mess but no one’s died yet”

  3. Jennifer

    I love this! 9,700 words in two weeks! I’m inspired.

  4. Rachel Maizes

    Loved reading about your writing process. Thanks for sharing it.

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