2014 was a year of great upheaval in my life, death, family divorce, illnesses and hospitalizations, as well as a health challenge of my own, requiring a lengthy period of downtime. It happens to all of us. Things come in clusters. And this was a year for my family’s life to be in chaos–and of course because I love them, I showed up.
Here’s the weird thing: somehow, I still managed to write almost 250,000 finished words. That’s a lot, at least for me. Two novels, a novella, and a non-fiction book.
Right? That’s a lot.
I was honestly quite surprised when I tallied the numbers—it all felt hectic and unfocused–rushing here and there, trying to find information for a sick parent, a bereavement flight; trying to find time to just listen to the wounded ones on the phone. Because while work matters, people matter more. Showing up is everything.
I have little memory of doing those pages. What I do remember is going to England in cold, wet January and reading a lot on the planes and in the evenings when we were tired from packing my mother-in-law’s estate all day. I remember worrying about my beloved. I also remember reading five full, long novels on that trip. I didn’t write a word.
In the spring, I finished my Master Class book, but I don’t really remember writing that, either. I do remember driving back and forth to a city 50 miles away to help care for my mother after a fall landed her in the hospital for nearly a month. [pullquote]Not-writing, the reading and gardening and quiet hours flying or resting made it possible for me to write a lot [/pullquote] I remember redecorating a bedroom so she could be on the main floor, and clearing the fridge of food that had gone bad because I was afraid my dad might inadvertently eat the wrong thing. I had to stay overnight a few times and I didn’t do any writing, although I had my notebook with me. I read a lot, probably another few novels.
Over the summer, I spent a lot of time with my granddaughter, mostly hanging out in the garden. Those long, lazy, sunny days eating peas off the vine will stay with me forever, but while we were watering dahlias, I wasn’t writing or even thinking of writing.
When I had knee surgery, I had little concentration to read, but I watched the entire season of Treme, and a few dozen other movies and television shows. It was nearly impossible to do much of anything, so I had the longest non-writing stretch of my adult life—about six weeks. I colored mandalas and listened to music.
The good news is, when there wasn’t some crisis in motion, I somehow wrote a lot of pages. Even if I have no memory of the working days, I did them. More, I’m pleased with the work–I loved Epic as much as anything I’ve written in recent years. But because of all the upheavals, one book had to be finished on an impossibly short deadline—and by some miracle, I made it, with a few days to spare. That never happens!
You see where I’m going with this. It was the not-writing, the reading and gardening and quiet hours flying or resting that made it possible for me to write a lot when I could actually get to the computer.
Why do I always forget that part? Gardening IS writing. So is cooking, experimenting with fresh pickles or that velvety vegetable broth. Toward the end of that mad deadline, I found myself starting a watercolor on the left side of my desk in the morning, painting a layer, then writing for an hour, turning around to add a layer to the painting, then writing some more. It wasn’t planned—I just had to stay in my office and write, and something told me to start a painting. And it was remarkably successful writing time. I was able to stay with it longer each day, with less exhaustion than I usually feel.
So successful, actually, that I’m going to experiment with making it a regular practice. (This morning, I’m working on a color chart, easy squares.) I’m also not going to feel guilty about reading and watching television in the times when I’m not working. I’m going to give myself permission to knock off work—all work, including social media and blogs and email—in the evenings and do whatever feels like fun. Remember fun and relaxation? Those things. If I feel like painting, I’ll paint. If I want to plant flowers, I’ll do that. Take a walk, laze on the couch and read a book or binge on some show I’ve been hearing about.
That’s writing, too. Filling the well is not arty-farty. It’s practical. If I want lots of material, I need time to soak it in, time to let it brew, time to just be in the world.
Do you take time to fill the well? If so, what do you find makes you more productive? If you don’t take time to do it, why not? Does it feel like a luxury? Do time constraints or other people get in your way?