Though I wouldn’t change a thing, according to the standards espoused by shows like Say Yes to the Dress, the ToolMaster and I had a wedding of comparative deprivation. I wore an off-shoulder summer dress purchased in a regular women’s clothing store. I’d sewn my sister’s bridesmaid dress, which was similarly styled. Both my husband and his best man wore unmatched suits already purchased for work. We held the reception in my parents’ living room and served department store sandwiches and crudites, soda in plastic glasses. If not for the B-52 cake provided by my girlfriend as a wedding gift, we’d have done without. The externalities were that unimportant.
This sounds like an informal celebration, wouldn’t you say? Quirky? Down-to-earth?
Even so, I don’t believe my wedding vows included the following promise: I will love, honor and cherish you, and in the event of uncontrolled landings, will tramp through canola fields in search of your downed radio-controlled aircraft.
On a hot, airless July day, however, the morning after the ToolMaster lost his beloved Twin Star plane, that’s precisely what I did. The photo above should give you an idea of the scale of the challenge, the orange dot being my actual husband.
Why talk of weddings and radio-controlled planes on a writing blog? I have two major reasons.
First, the search itself makes a great writing metaphor, cementing my understanding of the artistic process. I’ll need that reinforcement when I return to my novel after a month of enforced hiatus. (Today, if all goes as planned!) Like many of you, my performance anxiety builds the longer I’m away from the page.
Second, I count that flower-strewn day as one of my few unequivocal moments of spousal generosity, and in an odd way, a direct consequence of my writing. More on this in a minute.
While I knew two intelligent men had already spent four man-hours looking for the Twin Star, their previous evening’s search interrupted by the arrival of dusk, I privately believed I’d be some kind of plane-finding savant. (In my defense, I’ve demonstrated my wallet- and key-finding genius on many occasions.) I’d plunge into the field in the general direction of last sighting and spot the slight depression of the crash site, the tip of a wing.
“Guess who found it?” I’d call. Then I’d get to watch relief wash over the ToolMaster’s face, followed by a blush of eternal gratitude.
This fantasy lasted for a good forty minutes, during which time I discovered that crop depressions arise for many reasons: dry patches, deer stands, etc. Also, it’s challenging to walk through chest-high canola when you’re trying to protect the crop and when the preceding night’s rain means you have to wear rubber boots, rendering your feet the size of portaging canoes.
Is this not exactly what it’s like to begin writing a novel? Perhaps you have a killer idea, or a captivating character. Maybe you’re only chasing a fragment of witty dialogue or you have a full outline. But you believe. The dream is within reach—precious, paradisaical, and all-too-soon sullied by the limitations of reality.
When I gave up on intuitive discovery, it was time for the workmanlike path. We settled into walking a grid, aiming to stay 20 feet apart from one another and setting a course parallel to the edge of the canola. We had sunscreen, insect repellent, hats, and hydration. The biggest obstacles would be stamina and boredom, though given the beauty of the day and my companion—a man who awakens and falls asleep with a joke on his lips—the latter wasn’t much of a consideration.
So too with writing. Though I operate best as a pantser, when forward movement halts, it’s time to alter the strategy and think in a linear matter. For me that means working through a combination of craft books, of journaling, or of finding a receptive audience and speaking my story aloud.
Grid-work has its limitations too, we soon discovered. It was fine when we could reference the RC Club’s landmarks, but once awash in a sea of yellow, it was virtually impossible to keep oriented. Also, we’d frequently have to make course alternations to avoid dense or mucky sections.
As a consequence, I’m sure there were spaces in the field which went entirely unexamined and other sections we walked twice.
On one of my breaks, I said as much to a club member who’d continued to fly his plane while keeping an idle eye upon our activity. If we had to do this again, I told him, we’d bring tall stakes, a mile or two of string, and maybe a ladder for surveillance. He nodded and expressed the appropriate degree of sympathy, but when another gentleman joined the conversation, proceeded to tell him how we were screwing up. Though our efforts were sincere, we should have brought a number of tall stakes, a mile or two of string, and a ladder for surveillance.
In other words, as with writing, the more we do, the better we get at designing a productive system.
Also, the world has no shortage of armchair critics.
Happily, the world is also filled with kind and inventive people, some of whom happen to be the same souls featured in point IV.
I’d done a leg workout at the gym the preceding night, so I only lasted 2.5 hours before my entire lower body went numb. Meanwhile, the ToolMaster had resigned himself to his plane’s loss. Now he’d work to track down the local farmer so as to try and prevent a combining accident.
Fortunately, his tech friends weren’t quite finished. “Bob” owned a quad-copter drone with a camera and volunteered to made a grid search for several hours. Others tramped about.
Success finally came, though, with the arrival of a seasoned hobbyist. “Where do you think it went down?” he asked, and when the ToolMaster provided the trajectory, he plunged into the field, looking neither right nor left as he walked past the point of the designated search area. And walked. And walked. And bent to embrace his find. Though mangled, this constitutes a major victory as he retrieved the most expensive part of the plane–namely, the engines.
When he returned to rousing cheers and back slaps, he just grinned. “I’ve seen this before,” he said. “It’s always twice as far as you think.”
Beyond the obvious plug for stamina and persistence past the point of rationality, I see two writing lessons reinforced from this flying master: First, at a certain point, you have to listen to your inner wisdom, abandon logic and the plan (aka an outline), and just go for it. Second, there is a hierarchy of help available to you. Accept it, and all other things being equal, go with the opinion of the person who holds the most experience.
Now to the point on spousal generosity, because when it comes to receiving the free time and implicit permission to write, I know this is a struggle for many.
A few years ago, when the ToolMaster decided to take up RC flying, I was nervous. We already struggled to spend sufficient time together. Would this pursuit become my competition, not to mention a money sinkhole?
What saved me from becoming petty and resentful was the certainty that, like my writing, this wasn’t a mere fribble for him, but a long-held and cherished dream. How would I feel if he stood in the way of my writing? So it was my writing background which allowed me to swallow my misgivings and send him off to the hobby shop on that first day. And the day when he returned long-faced from his first plane crash, it was writing which allowed me to say the right things with a measure of personal authority.
“It’s the price of admission,” I said then, and repeat on ever-dwindling occasions as his skill grows exponentially. “If you’re going to fly, you’re going to crash.”
I haven’t forgotten the look on his face that day—the surprise that I got it, that I had faith in his abilities, that he didn’t have to add my disapproval to his own dismay. (He constructs his planes from scratch, so each represents 50+ hours of work.)
As these things do, that small moment of personal nobility became one of the most self-serving of my life. For as you might imagine, in addition to hearing my own words reflected back to me during times of writing-generated self-doubt, generosity tends to beget generosity. Though our pursuits are externally different, we two have a common language. We share an understanding of the need to create and explore, to spend time away from one another while pursuing paths which are unintelligible to others. Paradoxically, that draws us closer.
Unboxeders, I know you come to Writer Unboxed for talk about writing, not for lessons on tunneling through canola fields, much less relationship advice. Nevertheless, here is my suggestion: If you’re having trouble enlisting support from your partner when it comes to your writing, ask yourself if you’re modeling what you would like to receive.
Or, as the reality TV folks might say, rather than saying yes to the dress, take delight in the flight so your partner will become inviting to the writing.
Enough from me! I’d love to know what you’ve learned about writing from other non-writing pursuits, Unboxeders. And if you are fortunate enough to have a supportive partner, to what do you owe the pleasure? Are they all-round fantastic people or have you contributed in any way?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!