On the road again, again

writing-on-the-road

Silk’s Post #142

October 14, 2015 … Sometimes I wonder whether we should be doing a writers’ blog or a travellers’ blog. 5travellers5journeys5months? We 5writers do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the road. Just take the last three or four months, for instance …

Paula hopped all over visiting family this summer … Cincinnati one day, Florida the next. On her last check-in she was back home in Gibsons, BC, writing as she gazed over the harbour from her beachy retreat. But that was a few days ago, after she got back from La Quinta, CA. Or was it San Diego? Anyway, now I think she’s in (surprise!) Surprise, AZ for a tennis tournament.

Joe is recently back from his proposal adventure in Whistler, BC, where he won the hand of the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world on top of a mountain (then helicoptered back down and took a nap, apparently – hey the air’s pretty thin up there). After his flurry of camping trips and other family travel adventures, I think he’s back home in Langley, BC, writing between kids’ hockey practices.

Karalee had her eagerly-awaited mother-of-the-bride trip to Mexico this summer, then immediately took off for a kayak adventure in Haida Gwaii. What a juxtaposition! It sounds like she’s home now from her business conference in someplace very sunny (Las Vegas?) and her family getaway to the California coast. Writing I hope!

Helga is now back in her elegant and ever-fascinating birth city, Vienna, Austria, spending time with her indomitable mother. I am positive she’s soaking up material for a book to come. But soon after she returns to Vancouver, BC, she’ll be off again to her new winter home in Palm Springs, CA.

As for me, half my summer was spent on the water, sailing the San Juan Islands, WA, then up the BC coast to Desolation Sound and back. And now I’m on the move again, on a camping road trip down the coast to California catching up with family and friends.

As Carole King sang: You’re so far away. Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?

Well, the answer seems to be “no”.

What is this urge to be in constant motion all about? Are the 5writers going all jet-setty on you?

The reality is that much of this to-ing and fro-ing is about keeping in touch, and sharing activities, with family and friends. The reality is that personal mobility is the new normal. Families living for many generations in the same place used to be typical. Today, it’s much more likely that you have relatives and friends scattered across the country, or the world.

This is just one reason more people travel, more often, and to more places than ever before.

But, with some reluctance, I have to ask this question: When you’re constantly packing, or unpacking, or doing laundry while planning for the next departure, is there really time – and focus – left for writing?

Oh, we’re getting lots of stimulation all right. We’re collecting experiences and studying the great smorgasbord of real-life characters out here. We’re soaking up sights, sounds, smells, tastes, moods, settings that could be used to build memorable storyworlds.

But when will we “settle down” and write about it?

In airport lounges? Holed up in chic but unfamiliar cafes? Huddled near a sputtering campfire while coyotes yip in the distance? By night-light, propped up with random pillows in someone’s guest bedroom? Hunched over the navigation table of a rocking boat? Typing with fingerless gloves, sitting on a cold hockey arena bleacher before dawn? Under a beach umbrella between dips in the water?

It all sounds so romantic, so interesting, so fun, so possible. The Writing Life. We can do it anywhere, anytime.

Sure we can. But do we?

Well, here I am, on the road again. Again. My writer’s nook for today is the table of our 5th wheel trailer while I listen to the Pacific rollers out beyond the pine fringe, beyond the flat, stretches-for-miles strand at Grayland Beach State Park, WA.

And I am writing. Getting it done. Even though all this travel has made my post days late. In part, this is because of being constantly on the move or in the midst of social events. But the other challenge is that getting online while away from home is often like winning the lottery. You really take your chances. As I write this it’s Wednesday afternoon, but I have no idea when I’ll actually be able to post it.

My mission today was to call my inner naysayer a liar. When I sat down to write, that little whiner inside was kvetching:

“Writing on the road is too haaard. I want to go for a walk on the beach. I want to read a book. I don’t feel like working. You can’t send your post today anyway, so what’s the point? Why bother going on a trip to someplace beautiful and then use up all your playtime sitting inside writing? I’m missing all the fun. Writing on the road is too haaard!”

Oh, yeah? Well I did it anyway. Maybe not my most captivating post, but it’s certainly “in the now”. And from the heart.

And I didn’t miss the fun. I made my own.


October 16, 2015 … Friday morning under a fog bank. I’ve finally got a cell signal here at Nehalem Bay, OR where we’re camped just behind the dunes on the spectacular Oregon north coast, where every view around every curve is heartbreaking because you want to stop, right there, and just stare at it for hours. So that’s the good news, and here’s the bad news …

5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

New pages written:  Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Word count:  Still 9,320

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  Nope

Best new thing:  Being on the road again, again.

Apple progress:  3 dozen oatmeal apple muffins in the freezer. Okay, two and a half dozen … 6 already gobbled down.

Writing as a moving target

snail

Silk’s Post #129 — There’s a time and place for writing. But getting the time, the place and the motivation all in synch so the words practically jump onto the page by themselves … well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? We all feel daunted at times.

 The Place

The colourful image of the solitary writer holed up in his creative domain has evolved from the bearded scribe dipping his quill by candlelight, to the whiskey-drinking novelist hunched over his Remington typewriter in a smoky garrett, to the cyberspace dweller keyboarding prose at a nighttime inner city kitchen table.

Their lairs all share one thing in common: each is a private comfort-zone, a retreat apart from the distractions and vagaries of the world. A stillpoint.

There’s plenty of advice to would-be writers on how to set up their own distraction-free writer’s space with the objective of becoming focused, organized and happily productive. Chuck Wendig recently wrote a great blog post from his own purpose-built writing spot, which he calls The Mystery Shed, extolling the virtues of creative writing habitats. I would put money on the probability that most professional, full-time writers do the majority of their writing in their own comfort-zone workspaces. 

The Time

The next challenge is clearing space in your calendar to get your butt in the chair and get to work. This, too, is all within the writer’s control. Let’s face it: it’s all about choices. Even the busiest person can find time to write if she truly wants to, even if it’s not every day, or not in long blocks, or has to be scheduled very late at night or very early in the morning.

The 5writers have probably written more about finding time to write than any other single topic (or, more accurately, about not finding time). So, obviously, it’s not always easy to integrate a productive writing schedule into a busy life.

It really comes down to priorities.

If you read my recent post, This day we write, and the 5writers debate it sparked, you may have found my inner pep talk as a lapsed writer to be a little bit hard-assed …

As much as I cherish that writing flame within, being a devout, practicing writer really requires only one thing. And it requires it absolutely, as an article of faith.

You must write.

Even if it’s shit. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if your life is full of good, or bad, distractions. Even if you question your calling and are struggling to believe in yourself. Even if you’re overcommitted and all your time is spoken for. Even if you’re bored or uninspired. Even if your routine is disrupted. Even if you’re so consumed with guilt about your lack of productivity that you’ve gone into avoidance mode. Even if you’re too stressed, or too sad, or too worried, or too tired to care. Even if you’re consumed by some other seductive passion that demands your attention. Even if you fear your words have left you.

You must write anyway.

Or forget being a writer. Do something else. Find another route to spiritual, emotional, intellectual fulfillment.

My premise is simply that “writer” is a self-defining title: if you don’t write, you’re not a writer. But I didn’t mean to suggest that a writer must write constantly, or every day, or with complete disregard to the other circumstances in her life. I’m a realist, not a sadist!

The Choice

Everyone has demands on their time: job, family, household, health, financial or other life necessities that simply have to be attended to. We get to make lifestyle choices like whether to have kids, how many cars or houses or other stuff we own, and what (if not writing) we do to make ends meet. These choices (along with whatever kind of luck we’re having at the moment) dictate how much time our non-discretionary responsibilities will gobble up in our lives.

But whatever discretionary time we have left over – whether that’s a little or a lot, whether it occurs daily or irregularly – we get to choose how to spend it. It’s in our control.

The Moving Target

There are two notable kinds of disruptions are not in our control: motion and emotion. These can be managed but, in many cases, not avoided.

By “motion” I mean not only travel, but anything that moves you away from your comfy writer’s workspace.

We live in a mobile world. Unless you’re a hermit, you’re going to find yourself physically on the move for short or long periods, for all sorts of reasons. Attending your kid’s hockey practice. Vacationing in Tonga. Attending an out-of-town conference. Going to the laundromat. Visiting family. And you can’t just stop writing every time you’re temporarily uprooted from your favourite desk.

Some writers can focus in the middle of chaos, are able to wrap themselves in their own portable comfort-zones and concentrate on their work, oblivious to distractions. Mothers who learn to write on a park bench to the sound of playground shrieks. Urban bards who like to scribble at a crowded coffee house or nightclub. Travellers, like Paula, who love to take advantage of remnant time spent waiting in airport lounges. (Check out her excellent advice about Writing on the road.) Nomads by choice, like Alison and Don, who are adept at making themselves “at home” in new landscapes and cultures. (Their guest post on Finding time to write is a great read for inspiration.)

For the rest of us, writing while away from our home base – often with little control over our schedule, or the outside demands and distractions we encounter on the road – is a challenge.

I’m doing it right now, at my best friend’s kitchen table 3,000 miles from home, while the rest of the household sleeps (including the snoring yellow lab at my feet, my pal Brady). It’s exactly midnight here in Boston, and the first real chance in a week I’ve had to sit by myself and concentrate on the 5writers blog.

Thus, my Monday post has become a Friday post … a moving target, finally hit.

Writing on a Rollercoaster

The original meaning of “emotion” back in the early 17th century was “a (social) moving, stirring, agitation” from the Old French emouvoir (stir up), which derived from the Latin emovere (move out, remove, agitate).

There’s no doubt that an emotional disruption to “normal” life can transport a writer far outside his comfort zone – even while his body remains planted in his usual chair. When change or stress overwhelms normal routines, the mind often can’t “settle”; creativity, inspiration and motivation can become elusive.

When “life happens” it may cast a shadow, or shine a blinding light. Either way, it can play havoc with a writer’s equilibrium. What might at first seem like forward progress can turn out, on second reading, to have been spinning in circles.

But that’s what second drafts are for. And sometimes, when the ground is shifting beneath your feet, the act of writing is the lifeline that anchors you, the balm that heals.

This Day We Write Anyway

Though writing can be a journey full of starts and stops – sometimes slowing to a frustrating crawl, other times speeding ahead at a dizzying pace – one thing that’s sure is this: the journey will end in limbo if we stop writing and sit still too long.

Writing wants a rhythm, even if it’s an irregular one, and it’s hard to get going again from a standing start.

Maybe “this day” is not the day we write. Maybe it’s tomorrow, or next week. Even a snail gets where it needs to go eventually (or there wouldn’t be any snails left).

But every single day that we get words on paper “anyway” – no matter the hurdles – is a great day to be a writer.

 

 

Shaking the hook

Silk’s Post #11 — My subconscious tried to rescue me from writing purgatory this weekend. It happened in a rest stop just south of the Canada-US border on Interstate 5, about an hour before the dreary November day gave up and went dark.

But let’s back up a bit. We had exactly one week between the time we got our renewed passports and the time we needed to be back home today (Sunday) to fit in an overdue family visit in Lodi, California. US Thanksgiving seemed like the perfect occasion to visit with David’s 91-year-old mother and a number of other assorted relatives.

Through a process of reasoning that now escapes me, we decided to drive. Two days of driving south, three days of ping-ponging around multiple households and jerry-rigging a paper-plate turkey dinner in Mom’s tiny senior’s apartment, and two days of driving back north.

The first thing I packed was my computer, along with assorted files and the ever-present books on writing. I’d make the best of it. Maybe I could write in the shotgun seat while David drove. Maybe I could write in the evenings. Or early in the mornings.

Don’t worry, I won’t go into details about this trip. I bet you’ve done one very like it yourself.  Every moment was filled with conversation, transportation, or mastication (a disturbing percentage of the latter at fast food restaurants). I didn’t write in the car. I didn’t write in the evenings. I didn’t write in the mornings.

But inside, I was thrashing with anxiety. My writing pals have pages flying out of their printers like … well, like flying pages. (You can see what I’ve been reduced to, writing a sentence like that). Lord love a duck, Joe has 200 of them (pages, that is)! My book loomed over my head like a Seattle raincloud. Each night it followed me into my dreams the moment I dropped my head on another strange pillow. As important as the trip was, I was chafing to get home where I could settle down alone and churn out some heavy wordage.

Sunday (today) was to be my Brand New Day. The start of a dedicated writing schedule with renewed enthusiasm. No more travel until the new year. A daunting list of ‘must do’ obligations mostly checked off. I was full of eager anticipation (or possibly panic).

Now let’s return to that roadside rest – the last one before the Peace Arch crossing, where Canadian shoppers have a time-honoured tradition of stopping to discard packaging that identifies the new stuff in their trunks as ‘imports’. We didn’t buy anything, but we had to stop to dig out our passports, which were in my computer bag.

The computer bag that was … omigod … NOT in the car.

Gulp.

A frantic call to the motor inn where we had stayed Friday night. Had anyone turned in a black bag, maybe in the breakfast lounge? Yes. Is there a laptop in it? Yes. How about a couple of passports? Yes.

I started to breathe again.

We didn’t even discuss what to do next. (In fact, there was a distinctly chilly silence in the car that lasted several hours). There was zero choice involved. At three o’clock yesterday afternoon we turned south and headed back to the place we’d left at eight o’clock the same morning: Eugene, Oregon. And my Sunday? It would now be reduced to a re-run of Saturday in a butt-numbing version of the “Groundhog Day” time warp.

One whole day scratched off the calendar, 14 hours of driving, and a lot of gas guzzled – all because I was subconsciously trying to shake the writing hook.

Oh, I could blame my not-quite-as-sharp-as-before memory. Write it off to a seniors’ moment. But that would be too logical, too easy. Incidents that defy explanation, that just leave you shaking your head, that make you cringe just to think about them … these incidents BEG for interpretation. If no deep and enduring meaning can be found, perhaps at least an interesting neurosis or a hidden fear might be unearthed.

There’s an old adage that when you inadvertently leave a personal item behind somewhere, it’s because you secretly want to go back to that place. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s one of those things that sounds ‘truthy’, and besides it’s a handy way to excuse yourself and compliment your host at the same time when you leave your hat at a friend’s house after a wine-drenched dinner party.

On the other hand, it could be that you secretly don’t really want that hat.

So, did I subconsciously leave my book behind in Eugene? Leave behind the growing angst of the galloping calendar and the blank white pages? Try to shake the hook that writing has sunk into me?

I didn’t fully appreciate, when I bit at that shiny lure, how sharply the hook would bite me back. Writing reels me in, plays with me, then lets me run free as though I’m not on the line. But the tug always comes again, hauling me back, painfully sometimes. Maybe I secretly long for the time when I could just stare blissfully at a sunset without thinking how I’d recreate the experience in words (without backstory, adverbs or too much tell tell tell).

But it’s too late for all that. I’m caught now. If my subconscious thinks it can shake the writing hook by sneakily leaving the dreaded computer 350 miles down the road, it has another think coming. So, this week’s stats:

Miles driven in the service of writing: 700

Words written this week: I’d rather not talk about it

Pies eaten: one slice of Thanksgiving pecan pie with ice cream

Writing on the road

Silk’s Post #4 — Sunday night, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Nantucket bookstore window

We lead mobile lives. Our modern world is built for travel. We think nothing of flying thousands of miles for a two week vacation. Or putting the pedal to the metal as we speed through a couple of time zones on a superhighway. It’s so easy.

Oh, we might have to hang around an uncomfortable airport waiting area for a few hours, eating forgettable but expensive snacks. Or play restroom roulette on the road. But compare that to sailing around the Horn in a clipper ship.

And though we’re travelling more than ever, we’re no longer really getting away. We’re tethered to our “regular” lives – our work, our families, our obligations – with invisible electronic chains. Mobile phones, laptops, tablets, the Internet. Miles away, we’re still as close to home as the nearest cell phone tower or WiFi signal. (As close to home, and as close to every other point on Earth.)

Our world may be built for travel, but we’re still the same old people. Or at least, I am. I’m easily distracted by things like waking up in Vancouver and going to bed in Boston on the same day. Tonight, five days into a trip back East, I still haven’t written a word since I took off. Until now.

Writing on the road should be so easy. It’s the ultimate portable craft. I have every tool needed, except the most critical one: a focused mind.

I did try. Full of resolve, I packed my laptop on the plane, determined to make progress during the five hour flight from Vancouver to Houston. (Houston? Yes, unfortunately. Flying on points has its little annoyances.) What was I thinking? I found myself in a centre seat on a fully packed aircraft, strangers on both sides of me. Okay, tight, but not impossible – if I could just pretzel my body in such a way as to retrieve the laptop stowed (as required by the Airplane Rules of Order) under the seat in front of me, without putting my head in the lap of the man to my left.

I managed to wiggle the laptop into grabbing position with my feet and extract it, like an unwilling tooth, without giving myself a black eye on the armrest. Ah, success! Then just as I liberated it from its sleeve and started to pry it open, the traveller in front of me was apparently struck by a powerful urge to nap, flinging his seat back as far as it could incline. This only allowed me to open my laptop approximately five inches – just enough to glimpse the keyboard (but not the screen). Grrrr. The rest of the flight was spent reading, casting the evil eye on the seat ahead of me, and losing my enthusiasm for trying to write on planes.

I’m sorry to say the layover in Houston and the four-hour flight to Boston were no more productive than the first leg of the trip. And then a whirlwind weekend to celebrate a milestone birthday with lifelong friends and their clan ensued. It was a happy, noisy, magical, moveable feast for 30 on the shores of Hyannis Bay, with a side trip to Nantucket. A memorable experience to write about, not one to sit out while writing about something else.

Midnight now, and I have some alone-time, sitting up in bed in the hotel room, TV babbling in the background, my sleeping husband adding his own sound effects beside me. I struggle to summon the writing muse and get some words down. But all I manage to call forth is the assistant muse responsible for blogs. I tap out my mea culpa.

My on-the-road lament: no prose again today.

This makes me wonder: how do these amazingly productive writers do it? These authors who are rewriting their soon-to-be-published new book, while outlining the one after that, and showing up at writers’ conferences, and doing interviews and book tours for the title that has just hit the bookshelves? The ones who say they write every day, no matter what. Even those days when they’re stuck in airports, or doing their tax returns, or busy falling in love, or having their gall bladder out, or hosting dozen people for dinner, or dealing with life’s daily emergencies.

That takes relentless passion. And heroic discipline.

I think I have the passion. I just hope to find the discipline along the road. The journey I want to take is not for the faint of heart – or the easily distracted.