Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Things We Don't Get Done

by Elizabeth

One of the biggest challenges for many writers, this one in particular, is actually sitting down to write. There are probably few writing books or articles that don't stress that to be a writer, one needs to write. Butt-in-chair--I'm not even sure who that line originated with, but it's advice with which I often chide myself. Whether the book's advice is a number of words a day, or a routine, or a place, or whatever, the sentiment is largely the same: a writer writes. Which means spending time writing, which means doing the hardest task many a procrastinating writer undertakes: sitting down in front of a blank screen or empty notebook and scrawling down word after word until the chore becomes a habit, or better still, an addiction. Write.

So this is something I struggle with and, with the fresh binders and clean new backpacks of the new school year, combined with the excitement of Julie's accomplishments, something that's been on my mind a lot. To a good extent, I've stepped up to the challenge. My composition is usually done in those spiral notebooks that go on sale for a penny each right after the back-to-school rush, and I've half-filled a yellow one with a new story since my kids went back to class. A few chapters in, a new idea, it's not bad but it's still not as much B-i-C time as it could have been. No one is more aware of this than I.

Oh, sure, there have been trees to get trimmed and plumbing issues that have been put off all summer long, a cracked stovetop to deal with, the usual mounds of laundry, carpool anew. Stuff, life, and I've been dealing with that, but of course I could spend more time writing than I do. Of course I could. Butt-in-chair.

The routine I followed when I wrote my first, and to some extent, second, novel, really isn't working so well anymore. I'd decamp to a coffee shop, ponder until the muse struck (I suspect my muse is quieter than some other folk's muses, maybe because I am so dang loud myself it's hard to hear her), and then pound out words until they stopped. Clearly stopped, and like with eating the right amount and not too much, it ended with a sigh. Satisfaction, completion; it was nearly always clear I'd come to a good stopping place, a good session completed, and real accomplishment achieved. Lately, though, I struggle harder than ever to hear the muse, and when I do stop, it's with more of a grunt of lost steam than a sigh of satiation, and it's just not as much fun. Before, I'd finish up and get on with my day knowing I'd done what needed to be done. More often than not now, when I finish I do so with the hope that there will be another round of B-i-C later. There rarely is.

But it feels like time, it is a-wasting. Like I've spent too much time making excuses, doing other things that might need doing, but that will still be there to do and do again whether I write or not. So rather than doing those things, I should write. Find the satisfying sigh. Finish the multiple projects that have stalled a quarter or halfway through.

I have a few friends who write the best Christmas letters. One of them was a college friend, a woman who's wedding I went to, who was having her first child the year I got engaged, who went on to have four daughters and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and still wrote the most wonderful Christmas-and-other letters until they stopped coming. My own kids had arrived by then, life was a locomotive, the towers fell down, and I never did connect with her again. It's been I guess over ten years now since I heard from her, and though I did make a few cursory attempts at Googling her, I somehow lost her around the time she moved into a new house and I moved halfway across the country, and I never did find her again.

Until today. It occurred to me to Google her hometown paper, not even knowing if it was still in print, and there it was. An obituary, from August 2002. She's been gone nine years and I never really knew it.

One of the last letters I got from her talked about writing, how she hoped to pen a bedtime book some day. She knew I harbored the dream of a career as a novelist as well, and though I haven't rifled through my box of old letters today, I'm pretty sure if I did I would find words of encouragement from her in them, urging me to use my gift, urging me to go for it.

If she'd ever managed that bedtime book, Google would have found her on Amazon. I'd like to think she wrote one just for her girls, and I believe that's likely. But for publication, the dream we all dream, for her, it's too late. But not for me. B-i-C.

Rest in peace, Angela.


  1. Your post has reminded me to think about what is important to me and strive to make it better. Thank you. It will be BIC for me today.

  2. A moving and inspiring post, Elizabeth. Thanks so much for sharing. Hope Angela did write that book for her girls.

  3. Pretty much pleased with your great work! Absolutely fabulous post, i am feeling well to visit this Unique blog!

    Sample Letters

  4. My mother often asks me long-distance how my writing is going, and it's been a long time since she's read anything beyond my mostly-neglected personal blog. Her recent health scare (along with Julie's success) has prompted me to get serious about my WIP again. So sorry to hear about Angela; let's hope her daughters are cherishing her book.


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