My greatest achievement this year has been consistency: I’ve walked out to my studio and written in solitude almost every day, sometimes only for a couple of hours, and sometimes from dawn until dark.
This year, I’ve put drafting Ellen ahead of everything, including sculling, one of my summer passions. But rowing requires the same early morning hours as writing, though for different reasons: The water is flat early in the morning, and there are rarely any motorboats out at that hour. Most of all, though, rowing is hot work once the sun rises.
All told, driving to the river and rowing takes a bit more than two hours. But these are the same early hours when I’m best able to tap into the fictional world I’m creating. I decided that entry into that world was more important even than sculling –for this year, at least.
All year, I protected my mornings, often (but not always) walking out to the studio before dawn. It seems as if my resistance to work is lower at this liminal hour. Put another way: my imagination is more available. During these early drafts of discovery I’m learning about my characters, their world, my voice – and sliding into my imagination before my rational mind objects is critical. I’ve learned this year that if I can access that part of my imagination before sunrise, I can often sustain it in the bright light of day. But it’s harder, and sometimes impossible, to find my way into this magical place once the workaday world has awoken – usually because by then I’m too distracted by the activities of daily living to engage in my imaginary life.
It’s all paid off: My goal for this year was to complete two drafts of the novel. Instead, I’ve finished three. I had hoped to hand in a finished book to my agent today, but it’s not ready yet.
That’s my other big achievement this year: patience. The book has some time-sensitivity to it; I do need to get it done. But I need to get it right.
In addition to writing Ellen, I’ve also had some great jobs come my way. I did a special project for Vermont Public Radio the first quarter of the
year; I started accepting developmental editing work, helping writers of prose hone their projects; and I’ve had a few invitations to speak and/or teach, both as a commentator and a writer. These are jobs that do more than put money in the bank; they connect me to people through my skills as a writer, editor and educator. And they all came to me: I didn’t have to pitch for any of them.
To keep my focus on Ellen, I put a price tag on this kind of work – a minimum I had to earn to make it worth putting my novel aside. When I was offered a job that required too much time for too little money, I turned it down. Turning it down was hard, but I worked on the novel instead, which was better.
As in all other years, I’ve sometimes been stuck, cranky, angry and despairing, sometimes all at the same time, and especially when I’ve been impatient to be finished and published. But I know from experience that publication is the biggest distraction of all, and marketing is a different kind of hard work. So this year, instead of wallowing, I kept returning to my desk, where I’ll stay until I’ve finished.
One thing that alleviates the loneliness of writing is participating in this blog. At the end of a day of fiction, I can pound out a post – a kind of love letter to other miners of words – you, the writers who read this blog. Hearing from you always gives me a boost. Thanks for sustaining me this past year, and wishing you the right words in the next. Best wishes, Deborah.
Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator.