When I was a little girl, I used to love to read books by the fire, nestled in a gigantic bean bag chair. One winter break, I read seven books in seven days.
Such prolonged bouts of reading were the luxury of being a kid in the 1970s when there were no cellphones or home computers, no over-ambitious teachers who assigned homework over school breaks (what kind of evil is that, anyway?) and low parental expectations — as long as you did not disturb their cocktails, cigarettes and adult conversation, they didn’t really care what you did all day.
It must have been during this luxurious reading time that I developed ideas about writing.
Because reading was always better in front of a roaring fire at home, surely writing would be better in front of a roaring fire in a snowy cabin in the woods.
I imagined my life as a writer watching brilliant ideas flow from my head straight into the typewriter keyboard, as my eyes twinkled with reflections of fire flames. The finished pages of the book stacked up neatly next to me, until I gathered the final draft in my hands and gave it a final snap on the table to straighten the pages before placing them in a gleaming manila envelope and sending it to my editor (who was thrilled with the final manuscript, and eagerly polished the very few grammar or spelling errors in a day or so).
As I got older, this snowy cabin in the woods fantasy would include the cute Scottish neighbor who happened to bring me soup and fresh firewood at the end of a long, productive day of writing (let’s just end this part of the story with a Hallmark finish, shall we?).
By the time, many decades later, I got around to actually writing my first book, this idealistic view of writing contrasted with the reality I was facing:
- There were not 8 hours writing peacefully in front of a fire, because I lived in the middle of a desert without a fireplace and had a newborn baby and a toddler. Eight minutes of uninterrupted time was a miracle.
- Ideas did not flow like clear stream water into an ocean. They were pulled out in fits and starts after staring angrily at a blank page, cursing.
- An economic crash interfered with my confidence in writing about quitting your job to start a business. I would wake up in the middle of the night, terrified about how I could consider telling anyone to start a business when we were facing such challenges with Darryl’s business.
But then, slowly, as I found small stretches of time to write, I began to feel a joy and connection with my book.
I would find myself cracking up loudly in line at the grocery store as I thought of a perfect metaphor to explain a concept in a chapter.
I would re-read passages aloud after I wrote them, and sometimes sit back in my chair, surprised at the idea on paper that I didn’t even realize was in my head.
As the chapters came together and I wrote for longer stretches of time, even late evening writing became exciting as threads started to tie together.
I gave up the idea of perfect conditions to write, and traded it for conditioning myself to write perfectly shitty drafts anywhere, anytime.
Sometimes we will get that snowy cabin in the woods
My manuscript is due on March 1, 2021.
I have the last week of February blocked off entirely for writing, so if I happen to find a snowy cabin up north, with or without a soup-and-firewood bearing Scottish neighbor, I will gladly take it. Having pre-planned uninterrupted time to write is a gift and good planning for any author.
But it is not always possible in a busy and unpredictable life.
And even if it is not possible to have uninterrupted time to write, you still can and will write that book you have always been meaning to publish.
The habit of writing is one of the trickier habits to master.
Once you get it, you will find it is a reliable and down-to-earth friend, revealing daily lessons and providing life-long benefits.
So go ahead and dream your snowy cabin writing dreams, but be prepared with a less glamorous backup plan.
Like scribbling notes in a journal as you wait to pick your kid up from school.
Like talking aloud into your phone voice recorder when an idea strikes you at 3am.
Like writing at 11:30pm when you are so tired you could cry, but savoring your coffee and writing anyway.
There is but one rule you have to follow if you want to write a book:
The rest is just a decoration.