Taking Time to Wonder

The nature of my schedule as Emerging Writer at Randolph has led to an interesting writing schedule. By lunchtime Thursday, I have no further obligations until Tuesday at noon. This effectively gives me 5 days off. Now, I still have arts writing and monthly critiques that I must complete for my small business (Writer at Large Services), but I’ve managed to create a pattern wherein I wait until enough of that work accumulates each week, then tackle it in a day-long or two-day sessions. Subtract that, plus a day for general life stuff, and the 5 days off yields about 3 days for writing. Three solid days.

It’s a tremendous amount of time for me to spend on one body of work, given that everything else I’ve written up to this point–creative or otherwise–ranges in length from roughly 1-20 pages. What this uninterrupted chunk of time has given me is the space and ecouragement to wonder. I can brainstorm and re-read sections of the novel on Thursday afternoons to “warm up” to the work again. I also use this time to research details pertinent to the war and Middle Eastern culture, filling in the blanks of half-composed sentences from the previous week.

By 7:30am Friday morning, I’m at the desk and typically putting in 12 hour days. I stop for an hour-long yoga session and a quick shower. I get my food from the campus cafeteria, so I’m not even stopping for long to cook or eat. Sunup to sundown, it’s go go go. I love it. It feels living inside of something, like really digging in, like making something from nothing.

Saturday morning, I’m usually so excited (and terrified) to go back and see what I’ve written that I don’t even make it out of my bathrobe before plopping onto the couch with my laptop to see what I produced the day before. Inevitably, this leads to some repairing and tinkering, especially with regard to plot points or how the new writing fits in with the existing context. But six or seven hours later, I’ve usually got a few more pages composed and a clearer sense of where I’d like my characters to go.

And that’s what Sundays are for: thinking, wondering, allowing for possibilities. I might know where I want my characters to go, but I don’t know how I’m going to get them there. I’ve always been told that, in writing, there is a fine line between getting a good idea and writing your way toward that…and getting a good idea and locking yourself into it too soon, ruining chances for discovery along the way. I’ve never written a novel before, so I could be fooling myself. But, so far, this story has always been five or six steps ahead of me. I can see where I’m going and I feel I know my characters well enough to believe that I am trying to take them someplace they belong. It takes Sundays though–long hours of staring at my notes on the wall, going on walks and thinking about my characters as I watch the clouds roll in, or sipping bourbon at the local wine bar and spacing out while the rest of the world carries on–to consider how on earth to get them there.

Whatever I can come up with by the end of the day either gets jotted down in a notebook or repeated in my mind. That way, I can let it simmer all week until the next Thursday afternoon rolls around and I find myself in that space again: revising, generating, weaving, imagining. It’s hard work! My body resists the sedentary aspects of writing with every hour that passes. It pays a price for it, too. Likewise, my mind kicks into exhaustion overdrive, forgetting how to calm down and sleep and just stop. Hard work indeed. But good.

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