This time of year, I’m often a little worn down by long days and endless farm chores. The garden looks a bit more like a jungle than a tended space, and just this morning, I noticed that I need to prune out the sprouts from the base of the crepe myrtles. The goats need careful tending for worm overload, and a constant supply of chicken treats needs monitoring so that we keep their diet balanced. . . summer is very much the middle of the farm cycle, and I’m not a big fan of middles.
I don’t like the middle books of trilogies, and I don’t usually enjoy the necessary middle of most novels. But mostly, I don’t like the middle of any of my own writing. And right now, I’m very much in the middle of the sequel to Steele Secrets, and I kind of feel like giving up on her. I told two writer friends that on Saturday, and they nodded. It’s a common thing to want to give up on a book project during the drawn out days of between when the story is established but the climax isn’t yet crafted.
Here, though, is what I know. I won’t give up on School Savings, the second of the Mary Steele novels, because I like the story, yes, but more importantly, because it’s important that I finish the project, that I resolve to complete it. If I walk away, it’s far too easy to never walk back to that project, and if I walk away from that project, I make it a little easier to walk away from others. So I resolve to stay.
The One Time I Agree with James Frey
I’ve been having some interesting conversations with writers about the image above. For some writers who read it more literally, they disagreed because they find a break to be important. A short walk, a switch of focus to the garden or the dishes, a nap to settle the spirit – all those helped them return to the page with renewed vigor, and I completely relate to that, too. Sometimes the best thing I can do for my writing is to spend thirty minutes on a jigsaw puzzle.
Yet, in a literal sense, it expresses something important – the commitment to stay at the page when I most want to walk away, when the middle is heavy, and I don’t want to carry the load. I once heard Ron Carlson say that it was important for writers to stay at the work when they wanted to get their second cup of coffee, and that idea rings so true to me that I always carefully consider whether I should get up for more caffeine.
But in a more metaphorical sense, I think Frey’s comment is important (and trust me when I say it’s a little twingy for me to agree with James Frey given his fast and loose with nonfiction in his first book). As writers, we need to have writing practice as our normal – be it for one book project that we’re completing or for our lifetime as writers.
So while we may take a break for a walk or to make a loaf of bread on a given day, we need to KNOW that we will be coming back to the page later that afternoon or on our next scheduled writing day. We need to hold the space of writing as a key part of how we spend our time. If we don’t, it will get swallowed up in the things we tell ourselves are more important.
Holding that space is more important than even in the dark, murky middles of our projects. It is SO easy to take a break – for an hour or for a month – and never come back. But if we want to really write that book or build that writer’s life where we come to our truth and/or make a living through our words, we MUST keep that space for writing there as the norm, not the exception.
That takes resolve. It takes resolve on the day when your day job has been taxing, and it takes resolve on the day when you just want to watch 7 episodes of Grantchester in a row. It takes resolve when our friends are going out for dinner during the hour that we have scheduled to write, and it takes resolve on the Saturday afternoon when the kids are in the neighbor’s pool and we could nap. It takes resolve to commit to staying at the page, at the essay, at the short story, at the chapbook, at the novel when we could choose so many other things, good things even.
Resolve, though, is a gift we give ourselves because it is, and I believe this wholeheartedly, the first step toward honoring the words we have been gifted and that we want to craft into gifts for the world.
So friends, I’ll commit to finishing School Savings, and I will pick EVEN MORE tiny tomatoes and pickling cucumbers, no matter how bored or tired or busy I feel. Will you join me in committing to your finishing your work in progress no matter how much you doubt your writing skill or your story idea, no matter how loud fear speaks, and no matter how sure you are that it’s no good? I hope so.
Make your commitment in the comments below if you’d like. Sometimes just putting something into the world helps us hold to our resolve.
If you’d like to read a couple of books to help you firm up your resolve, here are three I just love:*
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
- The Writing Warrior by Laraine Herring
After you’d read them, I’d love to hear what you think.