Monthly Archives: July 2013

A summer’s plans gone awry

Like many of you, I had great writing plans this summer. I wasn’t naïve enough to think I was going to finish my novel, but I thought I would make serious headway with it. By now, nearly two-thirds into my break from teaching, I figured I also would have built up a cache of creative nonfiction pieces, some of which are part of a memoir of linked stories I’ve been working on. By Aug. 1 I would be ready to start submitting to literary magazines and websites as the submission periods opened up.
The writing gods, of course, were laughing back in May as I imagined all this. The writing gods like to watch as we mortals think, talk, and plan about our writing, because they know that writing does not conform to our desire for order or accomplishment. Writing cannot be planned, nor does it easily submit to quotas or to-do lists. In fact, it has a funny way of sabotaging our intentions.
What has happened is this: I started a new novel. So I am now writing two at once. Yes, I know that violates every rule and proscription from every accomplished, practicing wordsmith out there. But when one novel isn’t working, I move over to the other one, and for now, that seems to work. I also started a short story that is about two-thirds done that I feel rather positive about, even though I will tell anyone who’ll listen that I’m a miler, not a sprinter, and I’ve never written a short story that amounted to a damn. And, yes, I’m working on a couple of CNF pieces. They may not hold up by themselves, yet they led me to this second (double-secret) novel.
I could give you all the usually folderol about how many times I’ve been waylaid from my creative work. Sing it with me, friends: “wah, wah, wah” is the chorus, and I’m sure you can provide your own lines. Mine are something like “work for hire/makes me tire/douses out/my creative fire.” Finances necessitate that I take on freelance newspaper and magazine pieces, which require reporting, some interesting, some maddening, in addition to editing projects that pay well but suck the living life out of me. Then there are the scattered classes I teach, both in my home and elsewhere, to make a buck. Fill in the blanks with the usual vicissitudes of life, including family, vacations, laundry, and so forth, and summer is nearly over.
But with August breathing down my neck, and the academic semester not far behind, I’m going to dispense with the moans and groans. The truth is I’ve spent a great deal of time writing novel chapters, CNF pieces, and a short story. In my office, my bulletin board is decked out with a mysterious array of photos, postcards, paintings and ephemera that speak to these projects: photos of my mother and my aunt, a road map, a vintage travel trailer, postcards of the Great Smoky Mountains and various 1950s highways, paintings of Alaska and the American West, Nancy Drew cover art, botanical paintings, and a Christmas letter (“Best Wishes, Aunt Dorothy”). My floor is covered with boxes of postcards, cookbooks, family writings, letters, scrapbooks and magazines. My virtual bulletin board is full, too – on Pinterest I’ve been collecting images of 1950s clothes and housewares, botanical art, old campsites, and vintage novels, all of which is going into this creative stew that’s been simmering all summer.
I may not be ready to submit much (only the short story is close to being finished). Because while I was making plans, something funny happened – that collision of memory, emotion, inspiration and creativity that adds up to new work. It may not fit into the mold I imagined. It may not get me published in a literary magazine or accelerate my output. But it is writing, of the sort that makes the writing gods say “I told you so.” Instead of bemoaning what I haven’t finished, I will anticipate the journey ahead. I don’t know where it will end or how long it will take to get there. But I know that sometimes you have to forget your ambitions and just follow the writing muse where she leads you.

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