Years ago I’d had my first novel published and was feeling pretty darn good. I’d been invited to the Midwest Literary Festival in the capacity of Author with a capital “A.” I was on panels, dispensing wisdom and truths of literary merit. I met other Authors with a capital “A.” I signed copies of my books for readers. It felt wonderful. People asked me questions, as if I knew things about writing and publishing that they did not. My ego inflated like a balloon.
Yet it is not how terrific I felt or what awesome advice I gave that I remember now. No, what I remember is two stories of authors getting writing done. Anita Shreve was also at that conference. While seated in a very busy area of the lobby, she’d been working on a book. How did she get any work done there, I thought. Why not just kick back and enjoy her Oprah-book fame? The second story is courtesy of a short story writer whose name is lost to time. She mentioned locals at the bar kept interrupting her to ask what she was doing. Writing, she’d tell them. God, I thought. Why did she try such a feat in a crowded bar? “I’ve gotten good at writing anywhere,” she said. “It’s a great skill.”
Later that same year I wrote a post about all my writing rituals. The candle I liked to light, the place I had to be, and all the important non-distractions I couldn’t bear to deal with while writing.
Fast forward seven or eight years. I can write on a plane. I can write on a train. I can write at work (don’t tell HR!) I can write in hospitals. I can write almost anywhere. Not as easily as at home in my wee office. But I can, because I’ve discovered being a writer with a lowercase “w “means working wherever you may be and giving up on the precious rituals you once held dear.
At the Left Coast Crime conference I attended this winter, Gregg Hurwitz told a story about how, when he was younger, he met a prolific author at an airport. The author asked, “So, you going to write on the plane?”
Young Gregg said, “I can’t write on the plane!”
Older, prolific author said, with a certain amount of scorn, “Learn to.”
I laughed, along with the other panelists. “Learn to” was something we’d all come to do, each in our own way and time.
This, then, is one of the secrets of writing I hadn’t yet learned, years ago. Time is fleeting and precious and there are few chosen ‘moments’ that life hands you and says, “Write now.” More often you wrest such moments while watching a child’s soccer game with one eye, or in the fifteen minutes between when your teeth are brushed and when you leave the house for the job that occupies the majority of your waking time. Get good at seeing such moments as opportunities. Don’t say, “not long enough” or “too difficult to concentrate.” Learning how to focus your mind on your manuscript while you’re getting a tooth filled at the dentist is useful. Plus, it distracts from the awful drill sound and the drool that must be suctioned from your mouth. And that, my friends, is an awesome skill.