“What are you doing in there, honey?”
My husband claims that he had to call me through the bathroom door three times before I heard him. The shower had been running for so long that he thought I’d passed out.
Nope. I was wrinkled, but fine. I was just writing in the shower.
I do some of my best writing away from my desk. Oh, I tether myself to the desk chair for several hours a day to ponder whatever novel or essay I’m working on at the moment. I drink pots of tea, wear a flannel shirt, and use what my friend Toby calls The Red Pen of Death as I write and revise, revise and write. Once I got so mad that I literally highlighted an entire novel on the computer and deleted it whole.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been a mother so long, but I do my best writing on the move. You see that woman sitting in her car, in the grocery store parking lot? The one who finished her shopping but isn’t leaving the parking lot yet, because she’s scribbling something in a notebook? That’s me, revising a chapter or starting a new essay because of something I overheard the cashier say.
This past summer, my youngest son was taking a geometry class. The class was half an hour away from our house and lasted only an hour, so I wasn’t about to drive back and forth. I found a shady picnic bench outside the school cafeteria and wrote. When it was time to revise those chapters, I did the editing on the fly, quite literally, during the 34 hours of flying time it took to visit my daughter in Alaska.
Even without laptop, paper, or pen, I’m often writing. I think it’s odd when writers say “I write from 6 a.m. to noon” or “I only write on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.” Writing isn’t something you can turn on and off. In fact, some of your best characters, plots, and even sentences will jump into your head as you’re walking the dog or driving the car, because that’s when you’ve inadvertently given your brain permission to play.
In my new novel The Wishing Hill (Penguin 2013), I created a character named Claire and, in one chapter, I had her swimming at the YMCA. She is approached by an attractive man as she’s sitting on the edge of the pool, shivering in her bathing suit. The thing is, I had a lot of deadlines that week, plus PTO and library meetings, and I had to leave poor Claire stranded on the side of the pool! Luckily, I found a scrap of paper in my purse at one of those meetings, so I was able to finish the scene and get her dressed. I even took her out to breakfast with her new man friend—a scene that might not have come to me if I’d been sitting at my desk.
In trying to live “the writer’s life,” we are sometimes too diligent. We sit at our desks and scare our creative muses into hiding because they can’t move around. The thing is, writing isn’t homework. Why not let your muse go hiking with the dog, take a nap, or color with your kids? She’ll feel better, and she might just bring you a present to say thank you.
The point of this blog post is that there are many ways to write. I know writers who travel from one writer’s retreat to another, removing themselves from the world to immerse themselves in work. They need absolute silence to craft those precious sentences. I’ve been there and done that, and hey, it’s truly great at times.
However, the reality for most of us is that, despite our passion for writing, we’re also parents and spouses who hold down jobs and fold laundry. Instead of gritting our teeth and resenting the jobs that eat up our writing time, we’re better off embracing the opportunity to wallow in the everyday, to be “in the river of it,” as I heard singer Rickie Lee Jones say in a recent interview.
Your life—whatever shape it takes—can enrich your writing, just as your writing enriches your life. Throw yourself into the moment, wherever you are, and play with words. That’s all there is to it.