I put aside time this summer to write my book. I had a house on the beach in Rhode Island, and a firm commitment to finish by the end of August. With outline and laptop packed in my car, I fled the confines of my day to day life and drove with my husband and a couple of close friends to the shore. I dragged my beach chair (and a bag full of library books that I had been meaning to read, it's true) but I was determined.
I had always pictured myself being the kind of writer who sat in front of a big window, with hydrangea bushes in full bloom outside, with the waves crashing on the beach in the distance, typing away on my keyboard, nothing else to focus on except my coffee and my ever flowing words. I imagined that this would bring the muse. My children would be off somewhere and my husband would be napping. Our golden retriever would be lying at my feet.
First of all, we don't have a dog. I am allergic to dogs. Second, I don't have a beach house with hydrangea bushes looking out onto the beach. I think I got that image from a movie with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, where she sits at her big desk in her big house on Long Island or Cape Cod or Nantucket and writes plays. And I have never been one of those therapists who take the whole month of August off to disappear to the Cape. We rent a house for a week with friends in Rhode Island, and the beach is a few blocks away, and I spend my days sleeping late, then drinking coffee and discussing the best use of the day.
First we plan how we are getting to the beach; walking, biking or getting dropped off by car. Then we pack up, being sure to bring enough prosecco and hummus to keep us fortified throughout the afternoon. Then we arrive and choose the least crowded spot, close enough to the waves to afford the best view of both the ocean and the big houses in Watch Hill, not far from us down shore. Then we sit. And this is the important part. Because sitting and being is the crucial part of the day. Reading is also important. Any writer will tell you that they are also a voracious reader. Reading is the beginning of understanding how to write.
As the afternoon progresses we break open the prosecco, we drink a toast in our red plastic cups to the beautiful day, wonderful friends, and the amazing good fortune that here we are at the beach and someone had been clever enough to pack raspberries to go in the prosecco. There is truly nothing more amazing then toes in the sand and raspberries in your drink.
Around four or five pm the light begins to change, the sun is lower on the horizon and the families around us pack up and head home and we are left to bathe in the luxe golden glow that settles on our tanned skin and lights up our hair and we are transformed to glorious gods and goddesses and the beach is our temple. We are warm but not hot, we are comfortable in our chairs and the sand and the air is perfection. Of course we are all a little buzzed and tired and some of us nap. There is talk of lobsters, dinner, stopping at the market. At home we eat fresh picked corn on the cob and seafood and then of course it would make sense to break out the laptop, because I have so much writing to do.
But now the writing seems more like work. It doesn't seem like fun, or flow, or opportunity. I am less like Diane Keaton and more like myself, resolved to pull myself away from my friends. Then we are playing guitar and singing old Emerson Lake and Palmer songs and I am thinking I will go to bed early and get up and write in the morning.
Ha. It is now the end of summer. I am back at my teaching job, and I research how to break through "writers block." I am in my office again, seeing patients and my lack of "free" time is once again an excuse to avoid writing.
And then I open an email from one of my Writing students. He tells me that as a direct result of my Writing and Publishing course, he is signing a book contract from a publisher. His book has been picked up, and he is grateful for my help. I helped him sharpen his idea; helped him get it done. I stop for a moment and read his letter again. I skip forward in my email to another letter from another student. She writes,
"Your considerate, focused help with was just the thing I needed to get me writing again. I feel hopeful for the first time that I can really finish this book. This was hard work, but your kind words have changed everything."
I push my chair back from my desk. I look out my window. There are no hydrangeas outside of my window.
Sometimes writing doesn't happen like you hope it will. It's not like a river, where you just sit down and let it flow out of you. It is more like an ocean. It comes in waves. Sometimes they are huge waves, overwhelming with information and they can't be stopped. Sometimes they are small and lovely and you just want to sit and enjoy them and watch the light and see how it changes. But then it's time to get back to work.
And for me, writing is work. It is not vacation. It is not something I can do on a break. It is something hat I have to sit down and just push through. Barbara Kingsolver said, "Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done."
I will try and write in between patients, in my office after hours, or in between classes. Maybe if I just start writing, as Maya Angelou said before she died, then the muse will know I am serious, and maybe then she will just show up.