I spoke at a writing association recently where I noted that it takes me several years to finish an essay. I saw dismay on the faces of aspiring memoirists (since like many new writers they wanted to be told that their focus should be on finding agents and polishing their book-jacket blurbs, not slogging through years of actual writing).
I should have added (even if it would not have helped), but there is always that first harvest, which is the sweetest.
I spent this summer working with a marvelous group of creative nonfiction writers (in addition to my usual monthly workshop group, folks who are all kinds of wonderful).
In June, I debated seriously whether I wanted to do this at all. My projected work schedule had suddenly gone from busy to whatever modifier means busy-to-the-max. But with some nudging from Sandy and Writer Friend Lisa, I took the plunge.
There were weeks when I would put in very long work days, some including travel, many including weekends, and after scrabbling through whatever necessary household stuff needed to be done, tiredly carve out several hours for the writing project — working on my own writing, providing feedback on theirs.
It was hard work, iterative work, mentally backbreaking work that involved both brains — the creative, freeflowing, dreamlike, seeds-on-the-wind brain, and the structure-and-research-and-iterative revision brain that is the tractor bumping up and down the fields day after day.
I dearly wanted to have more time to get this project right — not just clock hours where I was technically awake and capable of sitting at a desk or cafe table and typing on a keyboard, but quality mental time, when my brain was fresh enough to function either in that special dreamlike overdrive or in that John-Deere-tough iterative-revision/research mode. My sense of never quite having enough time to get it right hung over me like a summer thunderhead.
And I even wanted to have a little more time for things that were not work, chores, or writing — to be a lily of the field.
Yet part of me was standing aside, watching myself (an unstoppable habit for most writers, and a good one). I saw myself dragging my tired ass into my writing garden, sometimes under the light of the moon, sometimes in the pre-dawn darkness, to till, plan, weed, water, and finally, harvest the fruits of my labor. (Well, young fruit that will be plowed back under eight or ten more times before it is ready to be harvested–the analogy had to break somewhere, given the slow, iterative process of writing.)
I don’t know what it’s like to have children, but I do know what it’s like to have something you love be both a burden and a joy. That’s how this writing project was to me. I had made a commitment to it, I wanted to do it, it was hard to do, and I was often frustrated both at my exhaustion and my level of effort, but I wasn’t going to give it up for anything, and now, as I look over the fields we planted this summer, shorn and golden from our harvests, I can’t imagine my life without this project. I am that much better for it, and I hope my writing friends feel the same way.