Lazy days of summer – for writers too?

Vegetable basket w fruit-02

Image credit from Mike’s Organic Food Delivery

Helga’s Post #43 – If we could name the two biggest enemies we writers face, it would have to be July and August. Warm endless evenings, alfresco dinners, picnics at the beach, falling asleep and waking up at daylight, who could resist?

Not me, it seems. My draft manuscript languishes on my desk, sending out silent but poignant messages every time I pass by. One loyal follower even reminded me I’m two days late with my post.

So what’s keeping me (and I assume, many of us) from plodding on, from doing what defines us, from the activity that gives us our identity?

Let me count the ways.

It’s harvest time here in the northern hemisphere. Bags of sweet local carrots and Walla Walla onions begging to be turned into delicious carrot-cilantro soup. Bunches of fresh fragrant basil and local Red Russian garlic waiting to become pesto. Sweet red Okanagan peppers, tiny zucchini and Heirloom tomatoes reminding me of my favorite recipe for Gazpacho. And then there are the salads. Organic red butter lettuce from Granville Market, farm-fresh Arugula from Richmond, all conspiring to keep me away from my manuscript.

It’s not that I hate all that fresh produce arriving at the markets. In fact I love it. For years before I became a writer my favorite pastime during non-working hours was using the bounty of summer harvest in countless ways. I preserved, I pickled, I juiced and jammed.

My latest venture is making peach preserve (not jam). I use it in the dressing for my favorite salad, arugula, sliced peaches, chopped roasted almonds, maybe a few slivers of mild goat cheese. If anyone wants the recipe, just ask.

But I digress. Let’s get back to distractions.

In addition to dicing and slicing summer’s gifts, there is planning for our upcoming trip to Europe. To visit cities steeped in histories that beckon research. On my desk at present, in addition to my favorite cookbooks (Chez Panisse, Thomas Keller, John Bishop), are 14 library books: St.Petersburg, the Hermitage, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. It’s fun. It takes time.

And my manuscript sits and waits.

Excuses? Absolutely. I realize that serious and successful writers do not take breaks from writing. Some of them even write on Christmas Day! (I believe that’s Stephen King, though he is probably not doing that any more since his books sold over 350 million copies). Does that mean I am not a serious writer? Or do some writers simply and plainly also need to take an occasional break? I would love to hear your views on that.

I do make a valiant effort though. I take my computer on the porch and start writing below the sunbrella. Good intention, poor execution: the glare of the screen makes me squint, even wearing polarized sunglasses. Still, I persist. Maybe for half an hour or so. I look above and beyond the screen as my mind conjures how I can improve that last scene in the story. But what I see disrupts my creative flow: A multitude of nasty weeds and other signs of neglect in the garden. After some moments of dismay and feelings of guilt, a brilliant idea strikes. Why not pull weeds while I construct my next chapter in my head? I get up to find my garden gloves. One good thing leads to the next, one genius idea begets another: Delegate. The weeding, not the writing. Instead of going to the gym, wouldn’t it be more productive to use your energy for working in the garden? I ask my better half. He has little choice but agree.

chez-panisse-veg1

Image courtesy ‘The Local Beet’

And I finally can get back to my writing. The pesto is in the freezer, a huge bowl of spicy Gazpacho rests in the fridge, and the only thing still to do is go to the farm for fresh blueberries and sweet corn (I’m told that I make a killer cream of corn soup, courtesy of Alice Waters).

Getting back to my writing is perhaps not quite accurate. Rewriting, more like it. Digesting my writing partners’ advice from our recent Whistler Village retreat. And there is much to digest and mull over. I had no idea how much I can do (no, have to) if I want my story to shine. Use more dialogue. Don’t let the author speak. Keep your characters in motion, (and emotion), explain complex issues in dialogue and simplify the plot. My writing buddies gave me a huge gift with their honest feedback. Tons of margin notes showing what I have to change, all offered with sincerity to help me turn my story into something worthy of publication.

So that’s what I do whenever I can resist the lure of summer. Come September, I will continue my actual writing from where I left off. Until then, I will follow Margaret Atwood’s Golden Rule:

“Revise a lot. Cut a lot. Weed out the unnecessary and the obvious. The waste-paper basket is The Tenth Muse.”

Simple, eh?

9 thoughts on “Lazy days of summer – for writers too?

  1. Helga, you really do have a way with words, and in this post your words went right to my stomach and made me want another serving of your fabulous peach and arugula salad. You don’t realize what a feat this is … I’m not easily tempted by foods that are good for me!

  2. Don’t know if you’ve been to Stockholm before or not – in case not: 1. spend time getting lost in Gamla Stan (Medieval old town – in the centre of the city) get away from the main tourist streets. 2.Vasa museum! Fascinating. We thought oh some old boat, maybe we’ll spend a half hour or so there. We left 3 hours later! 3. this boat trip. Expensive but worth it http://www.stromma.se/en/Skargard/Stromma-Kanalbolaget/Day-cruises/Thousand-Island-Cruise/Thousand-Island-Cruise-with-homely-fair-dinner/
    Have a great trip!

    • Those are great suggestions, Alison! I read about Gamla Stan, in fact we are staying not far from there, in Södermalm. I’ve put the Vasa on our itinerary. We have 3 days in Stockholm, so that should give us a taste of the city. Thanks so much for this. Hope you enjoyed San Miguel! We did.

  3. I have been finding it VERY difficult to do much of anything this month – we have the excuse, afterall, of enjoying the dryest month of record. Makes me want to raise a glass of rose … Again ;).

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