Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Writing Resolutions: Shoes and Swimming Pools

Last week I did something I’ve never done before: I checked into a hotel to write.

My plan was to check into the hotel in the afternoon—and not leave the room until I had completed a brand new short story. I would order room service, coffee, stay up all night if I had to.

 This worked for J.K. Rowling, though I was not remembering Rowling when I did it. I was thinking of the weeks ahead, weeks in which I’ll soon be receiving my editor letter with final edits to do for SUPERVISION. Then a new semester of teaching begins. Then the promotional machine for a first novel, a machine I’ll mostly have to fuel myself: advanced reading copies, guest blog posts, interviews, giveaways, readings. Miles and miles to go.

But I don’t know when, in these full upcoming weeks, I’ll write.

Usually I write first thing in the morning for a couple hours every day. These days, though, I’m distracted and worried. There are a million emails. All these loose ends—I want them to tie and hold.

But I also want to remember who I am, how I got here in the first place: a girl, a ghost, a train. A story.

Last year my young son insisted my Christmas gift—procured through his emissary, Grandma—had to be a pair of sparkly, silver shoes. I had to have them. She really, really needs them, he insisted. So he gave me a pair of sparkly, glittery, silver shoes, the wildest, most fanciful pair I own.

And you know what happened a few short weeks after Christmas? HarperVoyager accepted SUPERVISION, my first novel, a book I’ve been working on for seven years.

In other words, one of my wildest, most fanciful dreams came true.

This year, my son insisted my Christmas gift had to be a giant, blue travel coffee mug. I had to have it. She really, really needs it, he insisted. So I have on my desk now a giant, ceramic blue and stainless steel, rather wonderful, travel coffee mug.

I think my son’s gifts are a little prophetic. And I think I should pay attention.

So, last year, my dreams came true. This year, I have to work to do, work that requires travel and late nights and coffee—my son is right—the hard work of promoting a first novel, and the even harder work of continuing to write, of setting time to write.

And the hardest work of all: making time to think and dream.

My plan almost worked. 

I started writing a new story, an idea that had come to me as I drove through the mountains to the hotel: a title, a first line, then a second line. A story about graffiti and police and a small town and a girl. I ordered room service. I drank wine.

And I discovered the hotel had an indoor, spring-fed swimming pool. Open 24 hours…

In the stillness and aloneness of the sleeping hotel, I wrote 10 pages on a new world I’m very excited about, a story I can’t get out of my head or out from under my skin (and that I hope to share with you quite soon). And then I went swimming alone at 2 am.

I floated. I thought. I dreamed.

That’s important for writing too, the dreaming part. That’s the part I often forget about: the silent time, when ideas come, slinking out from behind pillars, resolving from shadows, slipping into the water…

I didn’t finish my story. Not yet. But I will.

And I don’t know if I believe in New Year’s resolutions. I do know that last year I wrote something down—and not just a dream, but specific, concrete actions to make a long-held dream come true (if the call hadn’t come from Harper, I was going to submit to smaller, literary presses; try a new round of agents, etc.). I wrote those steps down.   

That works: writing specific steps down. Making a plan. What also works? Dreaming.

You have to do both. And sometimes, I forget this. You have to make space for both. Make a time and a place for writing. Make plans. But don’t forget to dream. Don’t forget to go swimming. Alone and until dawn.