Writing a Novel Longhand

Quentin Tarantino. Joyce Carol Oates. Neil Gaiman. Amy Tan. Jhumpa Lahiri. J. K. Rowling. Truman Capote. Vladimir Nabakov.

What do all of these people have in common? They write/wrote their works longhand, with paper and pen or pencil, before typing them up on either typewriter or computer.

There are several reasons to eschew the computer when writing a novel. There are no online distractions or rabbit trails. It is easier to write forward rather than getting stuck in an endless and premature editing cycle. You don’t have to make sure you’re seated by an outlet. Paper and pen are more portable and are not a pain in the TSA screening line. It’s far easier to write outside where the sun might completely obscure a laptop screen. And we know that looking at a screen all day is not good for our eyesight or our sleep cycles.

Recently I read an article about how taking notes longhand improves recall in students (this despite the push to get laptops in schools). I had a laptop in college and I never brought it to class. I didn’t need a study to tell me that physically writing notes on paper helped me remember what I was learning. If I don’t write it down, it’s gone, baby.

I enjoy writing on paper. I have been journaling for about a year and a half in an unlined notebook. I always write my poetry longhand, scratching out verses and changing words and drawing lines on the page before typing them up. But when it comes to fiction, I really haven’t tried it.

Some people can’t imagine writing a novel that way because they write scenes out of order and it is easier to manipulate the document on the screen than it would be on paper. I always write chronologically, starting at the beginning and writing straight through to the end, though I do sometimes go back while drafting and edit what I’ve already written. In revision, I often add entire new scenes earlier in the story, but that could easily be done in the first typewritten draft.

Anyway, this past weekend I got it in my head to try it with whatever I’m writing next. It will mean I won’t be watching word counts rack up (at least, not until I type the second draft) but I have to wonder if I might benefit from it.

Sunday evening I bought a pack of four .8 mm black uni-ball pens and a pack of three narrow-ruled moleskin journals, 120 pages each, for a total of 360 pages, pre-divided into a three act structure. The pens are pink on the outside, distinguishing them from all my other many pens, and will be used solely for writing in these notebooks.

Now, I do have terrible handwriting, especially when my mind is on a roll. And there may be times when my handwriting cannot keep up with my thoughts like my typing fingers would. But I imagine there will be fewer typos (fast typing means fumble fingers sometimes for me) and I won’t feel the need to go back and correct the ones that do occur because I know I will get them in the second, typed draft.

One benefit I can count on is this — because I won’t want to “mess up” these notebooks, I won’t actually start writing the next story until I’ve done a lot of preliminary work with character arcs and plotting and feel fairly confident that I know the story I’m telling before I put pen to paper.

I’ll be sure to let you know how the experiment pans out.

Writing Romance as Wish Fulfillment?

My most consistently popular post on this blog is 7 Favorite Movies about Writers and Writing (and Reading). Last night I finally watched Becoming Jane (2007) starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy and now I find I must add it to my list.


To me, a movie makes the cut in the same way a book does — if when it ends there’s a little ache in my heart, a little place inside that now feels empty and full at the same time. This was such a film. When I turned off the TV at midnight last night, I found that I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even close my eyes even though the room was dark, I was in bed, and it was certainly time to retire for the night.

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen’s novels or of their film adaptations, you should pop over to Netflix and watch Becoming Jane, either alone or with a sympathetic companion.

I don’t read genre romance and I don’t write genre romance, nor do I aspire to. But I do like romantic elements in book or a film. I have, in the past, viewed the writing of romantic plots or characters as perhaps too common, not quite literary enough. I don’t know why — perhaps simply because the books one reads as an English major (other than Austen and Shakespeare) don’t tend to be terribly romantic.

Perhaps it is also because a lot of category romance in our day is overtly sexual. I’m not interested in stories like that. I am of the mind that sexual tension is far more interesting to read about than sex, and once characters get together, whether by marrying or sleeping with each other, the story is done in my mind. Think about it. Wasn’t The Office far more fun to watch before Jim and Pam got together?

There’s also a stereotype that women who write romantic stories are trying to fill some void in their own lives. But why should that have to be so? Doesn’t everyone want romance? Doesn’t everyone enjoy that lovely, terrible, desperate feeling of being utterly at the mercy of another person’s glances and smiles? Why do otherwise sensible people jump out of perfectly good airplanes? Because we like the feeling of falling. And that’s why we like romantic stories — we get to fall along with the characters.

There is some truth to the notion that writing romance can be wish fulfillment for an author. It was for Jane. And that’s what makes her story so beautifully sad. But it isn’t in every case.

When my husband first read the manuscript for I Hold the Wind he commented that it was a far more romantic story than I’d written before. I hadn’t thought about it, but I had to admit he was right. My initial reaction to this comment was to be a bit defensive. I didn’t write a romance! And then it was to worry that he might be a bit offended, that he might think I’d written something romantic because I was lacking romance. After all, we had been married for more than fifteen years at that point.

Of course both reactions were wrong. I didn’t need to be defensive. I should rather be glad that he thought it was romantic. That means it made the reader have a bit of that feeling, that feeling of falling. Zach likes romantic stories, especially when people get back together after a falling out.

And I didn’t need to worry about the writing being some unconscious wish fulfillment. I was simply following the story and the characters as they developed. I didn’t set out to write a romance — I set out to write a story about the books that stick with us. It became a romantic story naturally, because a guy and a girl were sharing and discussing books, which can be an intimate exercise.

It also became a romantic story because our relationship to the books we love can be like a romance. We fall for books like we fall for people. There are books we will never fully get off our minds, just as there are crushes in our youth (whether on a person we actually knew or a popular musician or actor whose poster we had on our wall) that we’ll always remember, no matter how many years we’ve been happily married. I know I have nothing to fear over Rebecca St. James and Zach knows he has nothing to fear over Donny Wahlberg (Mark Wahlberg, maybe). We don’t love those old crushes, forsaking all others. But we’ll never completely shake them. They are part of what makes us us.

Same thing happens with movies and actors. Zach and I have discovered recently that we have some mutual celebrity crushes (Jake Johnson, Chris Pratt, Zooey Deschanel). And because we’ve been watching movies with each other for 22 years, we love many of the same films and TV shows. Sure, we have our own separate flings — I will never understand his attraction to Burn Notice and he will never understand my attraction to Under the Tuscan Sun or The Last Unicorn — but by and large, we fall for the same shows: Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey, Gosford Park and The Boondock Saints.

I doubt he would fall for Becoming Jane, though I won’t tell you why. Maybe that film is just my little affair. But I do know this: I shan’t shy away from the romantic in my writing if that is where a story wants to go. Because we all like the feeling of falling, our characters included.

Bringing Back the Morning Room and the Drawing Room

A couple new pieces were added to the Cigar Room over the long weekend. While the menfolk were out geocaching and shooting off rockets on Black Friday, my mother-in-law and I went antiquing. I had two very specific items on my list — a small, round drink table and a vintage lamp for right next to the Eames style chair. I found the lamp right when I walked in the door of the first shop. The table was discovered in the back of the second. It’s the perfect size for the lamp, a drink, and a little candle.

We do still need to put a few more things on the wall, but the room is nearing completion. Both my husband and I find ourselves there at some point almost every day. Sometimes all day when we are writing or editing. It is perfect for sunny morning coffee and reading, afternoon tea or cigars and writing, and evening wine or decaf paired with pleasant adult conversation.

Though it’s far more masculine than the traditional morning room that a large estate may have had in the 18th or 19th century, I find that it is a nice substitute in our neighborhood of small homes built in the 1930s and 1940s.

A morning room, if you’re unaware, is just what it sounds like. A room used in the morning. Traditionally it would have been used by the lady of the house to receive visitors, plan meals, make shopping lists, and work on correspondence (I do have all my stationary there now). Lots of windows and strategic placement on the morning side of the house meant lots of natural light by which to read and write. The term is used more in Britain than the US, by why not borrow it to add a touch of formality to our stubbornly casual lives?

The morning room’s cousin is the more commonly encountered drawing room. Contrary to my childhood misunderstanding, it is not a room reserved for drawing (a fact which deeply disappointed me when I discovered it). The term is short for withdrawing room. It’s a room to which you and your guests might withdraw after a meal for conversation and drinks. Alternatively, it might be a room to which one would withdraw alone in order to escape one’s guests.

We use it to escape the messy kitchen and dining room after dinner, or the toy-strewn living room at almost any time during the day. We also use it to withdraw from noise when we are trying to read or write with other people in the house. It is mostly separated by the brick wall that used to be the outside of the house, so with the door shut it is quite insulated from the sounds of video games in the basement or music in the living room. It is an absolutely adult room — no toys allowed — and the only part of it that can get messy is the table, which is easily tidied by emptying the ash tray and putting coffee mugs into the dishwasher.

This uncluttered space has helped my state of mind immensely. It is a room in which it is equally easy to concentrate and to let the mind wander and dream. I don’t know when I’ve ever been so pleased with how a sudden redecorating whim has turned out.

Rediscovering the Power of Idleness

In the second episode of Mad Men, Roger Sterling walks into Don Draper’s office and says, “I can never get used to the fact that most of the time it looks like you’re doing nothing.”

As both a professional copywriter and a novelist, I knew exactly what that meant. Creative work, whether you’re coming up with sales angles and headlines or plot twists and character arcs, requires marination — periods of time in which the writer looks like they are doing nothing at all when in reality there is a whole hell of a lot going on behind the scenes, as it were.

Whether lying on the fabulous mid-century modern couch in your swank NYC office, taking long walks in the woods, or just staring into space at your desk, “doing nothing” is important. It looks to all the world like idleness — laziness, even — especially to those with more visibly active jobs. But it isn’t.

I was recently talking with a friend whose kids are intensely scheduled — school, music lessons, sports, and other extracurricular activities, one right after another, nearly every day of the week. I felt exhausted just listening to her list them all out. When I commented on how that seemed like a lot for a kid to do, she responded that otherwise her son got bored. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that her son will do something amazing with his life (and knowing his parents, I’m sure of it) but that thing will not be becoming a writer.

From my earliest days, I was a “lazy” child. After having had an extremely active (maybe even hyperactive) first baby who climbed and ran and tumbled all over the place, my worried mother actually asked the pediatrician if there was something wrong with little Erin, who spent most of her time sitting and staring off into space.

“She’s just thinking,” was his wonderful reply. And I guess I was.

As a kid I spent a lot of time drawing and reading and sitting in trees, all activities that allowed me to do a lot of thinking. Sure, I played sports and acted in plays and played an instrument as I got older, but most of the time, I preferred to just observe and think. I was never bored. I was never looking for more to do. In fact, I was really good at doing nothing at all, which, as I grew up, I realized not everyone can do.

My childhood talent for idleness came from my father, who loved nothing more after a long day at work than to turn the stereo up loud, sit down, and listen with eyes closed, drink in hand. He wasn’t someone who always had a bunch of projects going. He wasn’t going off to parties or performances. He liked being home and relaxing by himself. I can’t imagine him ever feeling lonely or bored during these times.

I certainly didn’t get my talent for doing nothing from my mother, who couldn’t sit down to watch a movie without also ironing or folding towels or cleaning out her purse. She was the list-maker, the errand-runner, the shopper, the one making dinner and cleaning the house. She was always productive in a way my father and I were not. Nowadays she’s learning to enjoy relaxing with a book (though I suspect she still can’t watch a movie without a sewing project in hand).

As a teenager, my sister jumped at the chance to get a job and earn money that she could spend while out with her friends. I resisted getting a job for as long as I could. I didn’t care about earning money because I didn’t go out with friends. I didn’t care about having a car, going to movies at the theater, going to the mall. Everything I liked to do, I did by myself and none of it cost more than I could earn doing chores around the house (which I would always put off until the last possible moment).

I was lazy and content.

Then at some point, perhaps once I was done with college, I turned into my mother.

With just a job and no school, I suddenly had a bunch of empty time to fill and a bit more money to spend. I began making lists and thinking up little projects and shopping for stuff I didn’t need. I started hobbies — scores of them — and filled my time with stuff to do. I still didn’t care to do the stuff that actually needed doing — like cleaning and laundry and grocery shopping — but by golly I made a lot of cards and jewelry and quilts.

I kept busy and I somehow got the notion into my head that any recreational time I had should be productive. That there should be some visible result or product of anything I did. Something to show for my time. I have no earthly idea where this notion came from. It certainly wasn’t a concept I was raised with. My parents never told me that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

Maybe it was just the natural result of reading DIY magazines. Maybe I spent too much time at Michael’s and Jo-Ann’s. Maybe it was just living long enough in a frenetic, get-ahead-or-get-left-behind culture. I have no clue. But somehow I had lost the white space in my life. And while my twenties may have been extremely productive years in terms of things created, they were barren years in terms of creative thinking. They were years I thought about how I’d like to write . . . and yet didn’t write a word worth reading.

Lately I’ve been reclaiming my down time, from both responsibilities to others by quitting a few activities and from the arbitrary busyness I have tended to create for myself. I’ve spent entire afternoons reading and not felt guilty about wasting time. I’ve spent entire days closing myself off in a room to write. I’ve spent entire weeks off work without checking my email. I decided that it’s okay for my garden to just be pretty and not productive. It’s okay to binge-watch The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. It’s okay to amble through a park and watch ducks and collect pretty leaves.

Nothing has to come of it all. It’s just pleasant idleness. It’s just enjoying myself, my family, and my world.

And in rediscovering the idleness I was so good at as a child, I find that I am recovering the “empty” time I need in order to write.

“I can never get used to the fact that most of the time it looks like you’re doing nothing,” Roger Sterling said to Don Draper. But he wasn’t doing nothing. He was doing his job, and doing it in such a way that he made his company quite successful.

At the end of our super busy months of September and October, I told my husband that I was not going to say yes to any invitation to go somewhere and do something on any Saturday in November. And except for one Saturday in December, the same conviction holds true. I don’t need the time to do anything specific at home beyond rake the leaves and do the laundry. I need that time to just do nothing. 

I know that to a lot of people this seems kind of rude and selfish and antisocial and lazy. But it really isn’t. My 9-5 job is writing. My avocation is writing. And my writing well is not filled by engaging in activity for activity’s sake. It’s filled by reading, walking, observing, thinking. It’s filled by things that look like nothing.

Writers like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, William Wordsworth, Henry Miller, Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, and many others understood the importance of giving the mind room to work by simply taking a walk, and this article has a lot to say about why that is. I heard a speaker at a recent conference relay some advice she had drawn from another writer (whose name escapes me) that “If you aren’t reading so much that you feel guilty about it, you aren’t reading enough.”

“It is in our idleness, in our dreams,” said Virginia Woolf, “that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” And if I, as a writer, intend to be about the business of discerning and presenting truth, I need the time that I need in order to discern it and present it in such a way that the reader experiences it in the most fulsome and lasting way possible.

If you are a writer or a painter or a poet or some other kind of artist who has been feeling guilty about the time required to do your art well, I invite you to join me in recovering and relishing your “idle” times — which of course we know are anything but. Others may not understand, but what they don’t realize is that every time they read a book or watch a movie or listen to a song that speaks to them, they’re enjoying the result of someone else’s strategic idleness.

Where I’m At, What I’m Doing, Why It’s All Good

If we’re connected on social media beyond the confines of this blog, you may have noticed I’m kind of quiet lately. I’ve taken the past two weeks off Facebook and plan to take one more. It was mostly because I found myself mindlessly scrolling through the same old stuff, not getting much joy out of it, and wasting my time. Plus, what better time to take a break than during the weeks leading up to and the week of a contentious election?

What have I been doing with that extra time? Hiking, of course, plus cleaning my office, doing yardwork, recovering from the fall crud, watching movies with my boys, and doing the groundwork needed to revamp a story line in a novel manuscript I had long since considered done.

That’s right. Instead of using National Novel Writing Month to work on my newest manuscript, which is what I had been planning, I’m taking two huge steps back to rework part of the story on The Bone Garden. I’ve mapped it all out. Now all that remains is the execution. Some characters will be combined, some will be altered, some will disappear, one will be brought out from obscurity and into an important role. It will be a big, complicated job, but I can already tell it will make that story line so much stronger and more compelling. And all the answers to my problems were right there in the text itself, waiting for me to discover them.

I wrote the first words of this book nearly three years ago, and I started the research for it four years ago. If I’m lucky and it gets contracted next year, it might be out by the end of 2018, nearly six years since I started the work on it. With the exception of my garden, I’ve never tinkered with anything this long, certainly not any creative endeavor. I’m more of a “get an idea and execute it within a month (sometimes within hours)” kind of person. But a novel, especially one as layered and complex and interwoven as this one, with its three time periods and three protagonists whose lives intermingle in many ways, is a behemoth of a project.

I’ll be popping back onto Facebook in not too long, but most of my screen time (beyond my “real job”) is going to be spent in my story. Hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have it all tied up in a bow and ready to send back to my agent so I can get back to what I had originally wanted to work on as we headed into winter.

I’m trying to be content with the timeline I’m on, to live and work in this moment rather than always anticipating the one ahead. So as I get out from under this fall sickness and I can get myself up in the early morning darkness to work on my story, I’ll try to remember how thankful I am each morning to get to work on something I love.

I’m sure the coffee will help.

A Novel Writing Mix Tape

I don’t typically write with music on in the background, and if I do, it is nearly always music without words. And I don’t typically match music up with what I’m currently writing, unlike my husband (also a writer) who tends to develop playlists to get himself in the right head space when coming back to the work after a time away.

But I have found that, in writing the first draft of my current WIP, I have been listening to the same few songs over and over again in the car when I’m not writing. It made me wonder if perhaps I had found myself a soundtrack for this novel. But two or three songs do not a soundtrack make. So I decided to go searching for other songs I felt fit the mood or themes of what I’ve been working on.

Lo and behold, it turns out that I easily identified more than twenty songs from my three favorite artists (Brandi Carlile, Indigo Girls, and Norah Jones) that put me in the right head space or otherwise inspire me for this particular novel (and if you checked out my husband’s current novel-writing playlist, you will see they are very different).

Some of these songs I’ve been listening to for over fifteen years. It’s possible that some of the themes I’m bringing out in my current work were partially inspired by these talented musicians when I was in my teens. Certainly the issues and themes I am dealing with in this book have been plaguing me since grade school, and perhaps one reason I gravitate toward music with poetic lyrics that often keep meaning ambiguous or even obscure. There are many things in this life I am sure of — but there are also things I just don’t have pinned down.

I already owned all of these songs on CD (because I’m NOT a millennial, no matter what my husband keeps saying to irritate me — no offense, millennials out there, I just don’t identify with you — that’s a whole other post, I guess…). And what do Gen Xers do when they want to listen to a certain combination of songs? They make a mix tape, of course. Why is this better than just making a playlist on your iPod? Because the order of the songs matters and you don’t want to shuffle it around.

Making mix tapes require a fair amount of thought. Once you’ve identified the songs you want on your mix tape, you have to arrange them so that the tempos are varied and the intensity ebbs and flows in the right way. It’s a bit like plotting out a novel. You don’t want to have all your excitement at the beginning and just let the last half fizzle out into nothing (see every K. T. Tunstall album). You want to hit the right mood notes at the right times.

So here’s my playlist for The Girl Who Could Breathe Underwater, beginning with the song I just can’t stop listening to…and ending with the other one I can’t stop listening to.


1. Heroes and Songs – Brandi Carlile (from The Firewatcher’s Daughter, 2015)

 


2. Mystery – Indigo Girls (from Swamp Ophelia, 1994)

 


3. Hand Me Downs – Indigo Girls (from Nomads, Indians, Saints, 1990)

 


4. Happy – Brandi Carlile (from Brandi Carlile, 2005)

 


5. The Things I Regret – Brandi Carlile (from The Firewatcher’s Daughter, 2015)

 


6. Deconstruction – Indigo Girls (from Become You, 2002)

 


7. Not My Friend – Norah Jones (from Not Too Late, 2007)

 


8. I’ll Change – Indigo Girls (from Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, 2009)

 


9. You and Me of the 10,000 Wars – Indigo Girls (from Nomads, Indians, Saints, 1990)

 


10. Save Part of Yourself – Brandi Carlile (from Bear Creek, 2012)

 


11. Turpentine – Brandi Carlile (from The Story, 2007)

 


12. Everything in Its Own Time – Indigo Girls (from Shaming of the Sun, 1997)

 


13. Toes – Norah Jones (from Feels Like Home, 2004)

 


14. I Will – Brandi Carlile (from Give Up the Ghost, 2009)

 


15. The Eye – Brandi Carlile (from The Firewatcher’s Daughter, 2015)

 


16. All the Way – Indigo Girls (from Despite Our Differences, 2006)

 


17. The Sun Doesn’t Like You – Norah Jones (from Not Too Late, 2007)

 


18. Touching the Ground – Brandi Carlile (from Give Up the Ghost, 2009)

 


19. Lay My Head Down – Indigo Girls (from Despite Our Differences, 2006)

 


20. Downpour – Brandi Carlile (from The Story, 2007)

 


21. Don’t Miss You At All – Norah Jones (from Feels Like Home, 2004)

 


22. Wilder (We’re Chained) – Brandi Carlile (from The Firewatcher’s Daughter, 2015)

The WFWA Writers Retreat 2016 (Or, The Enchanted Hotel)

A lot of conferences are held in fairly personalityless hotels that drain your energy by their very sameness to every other hotel out there.

Not so a retreat.

A retreat is meant to help you relax, rejuvenate, reconnect.

It’s not overscheduled.

It’s not attended by people you feel pressured to impress.

It’s a time to grow.

It’s about great food…

…great conversation…

…great views.

A time to nurture the friendships you already have…

…and a time to make new ones.

If you’re lucky, it is held in a place with admirable weather…

…attention to detail…

…and a sense of history.

For two years now, the WFWA Writing Retreat has been held at the marvelous Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town.

For four days I’ve lived outside — most of my meals and all of my writing time has been spent under sunny blue skies, with the occasional 2-minute sprinkling of rain, followed by soaring rainbows. But the inside’s gorgeous too.

The party may be over for 2016, but I’m not too sad.

Because I know that in one short year I will be back.

A-Writing We Will Go

 

This is a photo of a very small bit of spider web on the outside of one of my office windows. I think it once held an egg sack. It’s been there a long time. I don’t clean my windows often.

As I was looking at it today I really noticed the points at which it attached to the glass. They made me think of synapses in the brain or a wild session of mind-mapping or brainstorming. They made me think of connections — the connections I’ve made and will strengthen with fellow members of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association as I pack my bags for our second annual writers retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which starts later this week!

Spider silk is incredibly strong, and the connections writers can make with each other as we discuss the craft, share business strategies, and just have a great time together are strong. They make what can be a solitary pursuit into the best kind of party — one with great food and drink, great company, and no pressure. You want to sit in a corner and just observe? Great! You want to have a deep one-on-one conversation? You got it! You want to bare your soul in a small group of sympathetic listeners? Go right ahead! You want to dance on the table? Er, fine…but you do realize you’re in a room full of writers, right? You don’t really want to end up in everyone’s next novel. Not that way.

When I got on the plane home last year, I was so happy to be coming back home to my boys, but I wasn’t really ready for that amazing retreat to end either. So I am thrilled to be going back again this year. Lists are being made, bags are being packed, rides are being secured…and I’d appreciate your prayers for good health (after battling food poisoning this weekend) and safe travels.

Can’t wait to share my trip with you in the coming weeks!

Welcoming the End of Summer Break

MSU students are flowing back into the city. My son went back to school today. We are falling back into routine. Earlier nights, earlier mornings, tighter schedules. And I’m okay with that. Summer has always overstayed its welcome in my life, and, as every writer (or anyone who works from home) knows, summer is hard on output.

Back in June, I finally got myself from 40,000 to 50,000 words in my newest novel manuscript. Each paragraph was a hard-fought victory over summer distraction, including having my son home for the summer (no day care) for the first time whilst also continuing to work full time. In July, I don’t think I wrote much of anything. I was busily working ahead in anticipation of camp and vacation, entertaining dear friends at our house, editing someone else’s novel, and then gone for two weeks, during which time I was surrounded by people and working fairly diligently on actually getting a tan.

In August, it was (intensely) back to work writing pages and pages of catalog copy for the Summer 2017 list. I began to think I’d been quite foolish to set a goal for myself of finishing the first draft of this novel before my WFWA writing retreat in late September. My yard and house had atrophied — badly — over the past two months of busyness. We’d been eating out most meals because no one had the time or energy to grocery shop or cook. The weight I’d lost in June by diligently tracking what I ate started creeping back on. And as an introvert used to working in the house alone for much of the day had about reached my limit of days-strung-together-without-a-decent-chunk-of-solitude-thrown-in-there.

Enter Guys’ Week.

My husband and my son had one glorious week of fun planned out for the end of summer, which included lots of time out of the house and two overnight trips. During Guys’ Week, they went to zoos and museums and the LEGO store. They rode carousels, water slides, and elevated trains. They ate way too many coney dogs and made it through a tornado. They drank $6 slurpees and stayed on the 50th floor of the Renaissance Center.

Me? I wrote 20,000 words. In one week.

I could have spent my non-work time that week cleaning the house, doing the laundry, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, and all the other stuff that needed to get done. But I chose instead to focus on writing.

When he’s an adult, I’m sure my son will have memories of a very different type of household than the pristinely clean one I grew up in. He may remember that many nights for a while there was a bag or a box on the table rather than serving bowls. Occasionally, this bothers and embarrasses me. But I’m comforted by the thought that he may also remember that his parents pursued their passions every chance they got.

In four weeks, summer will be officially over and I will be in Albuqurque, New Mexico, with ninety other writers, women (and one man) who have become dear friends and fellow sojourners in the realm of writing and publishing. We’re all at different stages of our manuscripts and our careers. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one with a messy house and an empty fridge.

And I’m willing to bet that I’ll have finished my first draft before I step on that plane.