No, I did not finish THE MAGIC QUILT. I got a good part of the final editing done and realized it was more than a four day job. I made some revisions to my Web site instead, which was much more fun.
As I listen to friends, family and coworkers discuss their holiday preparations, I am struck by the difference in their holiday plans and my own. I look forward to the four days that I will have off work because I intend to use that time to write. Decorations, gifts, traditions, they pale in comparison to the real gift that I’ve been given, four days to sit at my computer and pound the keyboard.
Usually my fiction writing is limited only to weekends. On a typical Saturday, when the phone rings, I don’t answer it. Three loads of laundry rest in the hamper, ready to be folded and put away, another in the washer. I look at my watch and stretch my legs. I’ve been sitting at my computer four hours. Harry has been waiting all morning for me to walk with him around Lake Johnson. If I stop now, I will have time to get my hair cut after we walk. I look at my watch again. Ten more minutes — all I need is ten minutes to finish this chapter — then I’ll get my day started.
An hour later I glance at my watch in horror. My ten minutes have turned into an hour, an hour that I could have spent completing the chores that will have to be done before Monday morning.
We make time for what is important to us. Priorities get done. My passion, and therefore my priority, is writing. Finding time to write means sacrificing something else, something that is important.
Entering “finding time to write,” into Google’s search engine, I was surprised that so much has been written on the topic. I read suggestions like those below:
• Make the time — most people don’t make writing a high enough priority.
• Figure out the best times of the day for you to write.
• Don’t answer the phone or read e-mail.
• Eliminate time wasters like television, videos, opening junk mail, reading magazines and running errands.
• Treat time as an investment, examine your time budget.
I agree. These are excellent suggestions, but time is not the only solution. Last Friday I was listening to the Morning Edition segment on NPR. The authors of Great American Writers and Their Cocktails were discussing their book. One of the authors suggested that writers may drink in order to forget their work so that they can relax at the end of a writing day. Could it be, then, that we need a cocktail to get our minds out of writing mode and out of our imagination?
Following that logic, if we drink in order to escape the imaginary world that we create when writing fiction, how then do we get into that writing mode and into the world of our imagination. A simple button on the menu of our cell phone changes the options. Where is the button for the option of “imagination on”?
As writers, we’ve all struggled with a scene that isn’t working, or a paragraph that is overwritten, dialogue that won’t come together, or worse, the dreaded blank screen. Why? We may have made the sacrifice in order to have an extra hour at the computer. Yet, once there we can’t get into the writing mode. Imagination off.
Right now it is 5 am, yet I am not completely in the mode. Awake an hour before the alarm, I am at the computer, empowered to write, just as I wrote my short story “Pulse of Autumn”. I woke up at 3 am with the story in my mind, already in writing mode even before I woke. I wrote the first draft of the story before my work day began.
I have an hour yet before I need to wake my husband and start my day. I’d like to work on The Magic Quilt, my historical fantasy novel for middle age readers. It is so close to being finished. Only a few scenes need rewriting and the ending needs some revision. Yet, past experience tells me that it will take too long to get into the mode. I need to see my characters, smell Colonial Boston of 1775, and hear the criers as they sell their wares. An hour is not enough time. By the time I organize my historical references to be close at hand, get into a scene, and go back to the past in my imagination, my alarm clock would ring and I would spend a frustrated day wishing I’d had more time.
So I decide to write a blog entry about finding time.
I wrote a sketchy draft of The Magic Quilt when I was in graduate school and then didn’t look at it again during the 14 years that I taught middle school. I never even tried to write fiction when I was teaching. I wasn’t alone in that, Stephen King couldn’t write when he was teaching either. In his book On Writing, King said,
“…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching… by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”
And so The Magic Quilt waited. My mind was on lesson plans and worrying about whether I had put out all the materials that I would need for the next day’s lab activity. Did I copy the lab handout before I left school, or would I have to go in early and copy it? Then there were the calls to parents about students I was concerned about, and the calls to encourage those who were doing better. And that endless stack of papers to grade that took up all my free time in the evenings.
So it was that after resigning my position as a science teacher, I reread my original draft of The Magic Quilt, rewrote a couple of chapters and brought them to my fiction writing group. With their help, I decided the novel could be good and starting researching the American Revolution, the setting for the book. After finishing the second draft of the book, I took a workshop on writing historical fiction books taught by Philip Gerard, an expert on Paul Revere, and found that I had some historical facts wrong. Fixing the history trickled down through the entire novel and I had to rewrite much of the book. Now, The Magic Quilt is finally so close to being finished that my goal for my holiday vacation is to finish her.
Thank you, Harry, for your support.
Coauthored with Harry Calhoun
If your first love is a tropical paradise, or you have a love affair with sunshine, then we (my husband and I) recommend getting married in Key West, Florida. “Key-ping Paradise in your Honeymoon: Unexpected Gifts from Key West” is an essay written by Harry Calhoun and Trina Allen about our love and nostalgia for Key West.
I first saw Key West up close in early 1993 and fell instantly and completely in love. The warmth seemed to marinate into the personalities of the people who lived there, and I wanted to be one of them. The laid-back, forgiving and accepting Keys style, the soothing salt waters and palm trees whooshing in the breeze offset what even then was a tourist economy, opportunistic, greedy and mean-spirited. Then as now, the character of the people, and the people who were characters, helped make up for price-gouging on everything from properties to Pina Coladas.
These are my husband’s words, written two years ago right after our wedding in Key West. It is hard to believe it has been two years since our wedding, and I think it is worth posting this piece on my blog so close to the eve of our anniversary.
I love you, Harry, as much now as I did on our wedding day. Happy Anniversary.