I wrote a Father’s Day piece for the Huffington Post about what I learned about parenting from my awesome dad. You can read that here! It’s a love letter/Dad’s Day tribute to the man I call Poppy, complete with great photos.
Last night in the bathtub, Aidan and I were talking about one of his best friends from school, and he said, “He has three kids in his family.”
“Yes, he does,” I said.
“His mom has to take care of all of them,” he said.
“Yup, sounds pretty hard, huh?”
“Why do they have three kids?” he asked.
“Because his mom and dad wanted three. Families can be all different sizes, like Daddy and I decided to only have one kid.”
“You should have two,” he said.
“A lot of families do have two kids,” I said. “Would you like that?”
“Uh huh, then I’d have someone to play with,” he said.
This is when my heart began to ache. In the past he’s generally said he didn’t want a sibling because he didn’t want to share us. This was new and, as the mother of an only child, it is my biggest concern. As a mother who lost her second child, it is also my greatest sadness.
“Yeah, sometimes it makes me sad that you don’t have a brother or sister,” I said. “But, you know, we did try to have another baby, but she died before she was born. You remember Nina.”
He nodded. “But I wouldn’t want a girl to play with. I’d want a boy.”
“You don’t get to choose!” I said.
“Why did Nina die?”
“We don’t know,” I said.
“What did the doctor say?”
“The doctors didn’t know either. No one could figure out why she died.”
“How did you find out?”
“That she’d died?”
“Well, usually when a baby is in your belly, you can feel her moving, but one day I couldn’t feel her moving anymore so I went to the doctor’s office and they looked at my belly with an ultrasound machine. That’s what they use to look inside your body. And they told me that she had died. They could tell because her heart wasn’t beating anymore.”
“And then what happened?”
“I had to deliver her, which means I had to get her out of my body.”
“How did you do that?”
“They gave me medicine to help my belly contract. When a woman has a baby, the belly contracts to push the baby out.”
I held my hands around my abdomen and squeezed my fingers together to show him what I meant by “contract.”
“This is the way all moms deliver babies,” I said. “It’s how I delivered you, too. Only Nina had already died, so it was really sad.”
“What happened after?”
“You mean after I had her?”
“Well, we saw her and held her and it was really sad.”
“And then what happened?”
“Well, when people die, either you bury them in the ground or you burn them. It’s called cremation, and you can keep the ashes or scatter them somewhere. That’s what we did with Nina. We kept the ashes.”
“Where are they?”
“Some of them are on our altar in a small jar, but not all of them fit, so some are in a box in my bedroom.”
“Did they burn her with a fire?”
“I don’t really know. They did it at a funeral home. I don’t really know how that works.”
“Do you have a picture of Nina?”
“Can I see it?”
“Okay, let me see it.”
“Well, it’s not on my phone, it’s on my computer. I’ll have to show you later.”
“Could you make another baby?”
“Well, we could,” I said, “but Daddy and I sort of decided we didn’t want to after Nina died.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, it was so hard when she died. It’s always sad when someone dies, but especially when a baby dies, because they don’t get to live their life and we never had the chance to have Nina in our lives. It was really hard for us and we were a little scared of trying again. And also we thought a lot about what was best for our family and thought maybe it was best to have only one child. It’s hard taking care of children, and we decided maybe one was best for us, but it does make us sad sometimes.”
“How do you make babies?” he asked.
“Well, mommies and daddies make them together,” I said.
“The dad creates something called sperm in his body and when the sperm meets an egg in the mom’s body, together they create a baby.”
“How does it get inside of the mom’s body?”
“I don’t really know how to explain that to you,” I said, officially wimping out.
“Well, you could if you wanted to,” he said.
“I don’t really know how,” I said. “Oh my God, it’s time to wash the shampoo out of your hair!”
“How many buckets?”
“I don’t know: five?”
How do you talk to a kid about death? And, even trickier, how do you talk to a kid about sex? My son seems perfectly capable of handling a frank conversation about death, but would he be comfortable learning about sex? He’s only six years old (as of tomorrow), after all, but maybe he would be fine with it. Maybe I’m the squeamish one and he’d be perfectly fine.
How have other parents handled these questions? It is time to get him a copy of “Where Did I Come From?” I think that’s how I learned the facts of life, but is six too soon?
One of the many things I love about my son is his creativity.
He’s like a mini-scientist in the making. When he sees something he loves, it’s not good enough to simply admire it from afar. He has to figure out how it works, then go home and try to make it himself.
He used to sit silently watching the audio kinetic sculpture at the science museum for hours. Seriously. I couldn’t lure him away with dinosaurs, butterflies, the water play area, not even snacks. Nothing could match that little ball rushing down ramps, spinning wheels, dinging bells. Not surprisingly, he also fell in love with OK Go’s This Too Shall Pass video, for which the band teamed with a group of engineers to make a massive Rube Goldberg structure that included crashing cars and smashing TV screens.
Once he was old enough to realize someone had actually built these things, he started obsessively watching Rube Goldberg and domino run videos on You Tube, then making them himself, using marbles, train and Hot Wheels tracks, cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, whatever he could get his hands on—of course we had to run out and buy dominoes…then more dominoes—and enlisting Harlan and me to help.
Same with the “What’s the difference?” games he loves doing with his Seattle grandpa in the newspaper and those Highlights puzzles where you find objects hidden in a picture. He started making his own for the whole family, drawing two pictures that have, say, six differences we have to identify, and then these elaborate drawings where we have to find 10 or 20 objects that he’s hidden. One morning he asked me to set an alarm so he could get up early and draw this crazy beach scene full of hidden objects first thing in the morning for Harlan and me to figure out over breakfast.
The other day we were visiting my friend Courtney and her family in San Diego and there were these hippie chicks making gigantic bubbles with simple homemade bubble-making contraptions at Ocean Beach, so all the kids could chase and pop them. A couple days later Aidan asked me to help him find sticks in the backyard. He wouldn’t tell me what he was up to—it was a surprise—but he had me tie string to the end of each stick and then fill a bucket with bubble solution. When our bubble maker failed, we looked on You Tube, drove to the hardware store for dowels and the drugstore for glycerin.
While the result could use some tweaking—our bubbles pop faster than the hippie chicks’—it’s still pretty impressive.
As he gets older, I assume my little scientist’s skills will only improve and his projects will grow in complexity. As a parent, I encourage his interests, help him cut holes in cardboard boxes and carefully place rows of hundreds of dominoes on the floor and buy him as many Legos as we can afford. We also signed him up for a science class at a local art studio that he’s completely obsessed with. But otherwise, I just sit back and enjoy his passions and hope curiosity continues to drive him and wait to see what he does next.
Since we lost our daughter, Nina, three years ago, my husband and I have struggled to decide whether or not we should try to have another child. And I have struggled to put that struggle into words.
Finally I was able to write a story that expressed my grief, my guilt, my ambivalence, my resignation and, finally, the glimmer of peace and acceptance that has crept into my days. Elle Magazine published the piece in the iPad and online editions and you can read it here.
Thanks for reading.
I haven’t blogged in ages and I definitely don’t have time today because I’m doing National Novel Writing Month again!
So, here’s what I wrote on Facebook:
Today is November 1. You know what that means? It’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month! I may be completely insane, but I’m going for it again. This year I’m what they call a “rebel,” because I’m not starting a new project, but rather aiming to finish the one I started last year. The first time around, miracle of miracles, I did cross the 50,000-word finish line. This time I’ve got some additional road blocks in my path: Two more weeks of single momming. Another school holiday and another early release day before daddy’s return. My parents coming for a week at Thanksgiving. Babysitters who don’t return my texts. Waiting for Godot on the calendar (and Isabel Marant at H&M!). Three big fat delicious-looking library books vying for my attention. A much more jumbled writing plan than last time. And yet, and yet, I’m going for it!
The obstacle that I didn’t mention is that I’m not sure if the book has room for another 50,000 words! Kind of an odd conundrum, but I guess if I hit the end of the book this month and have not completed 50,000 words, I’ll still be pretty psyched.
So far, so good. I wrote more than 3,000 words on Day 1. Over the weekend I had a babysitter come for an hour and a half on Saturday and yesterday my friend Julie took Aidan to his swimming lesson so I could have a couple hours in a coffee shop. Today a mom friend is picking him Aidan from school and I’m meeting them at Lego Time at the Public Library. Very convenient, because that’s where I am writing at this very instant. I brought lunch with me so I won’t have to move my buns all day. Same mom is taking him to the playground on Wednesday. All in the name of giving me more time. To write.
Ran into her this morning and she said, “Have a productive day!”
I’ve written 5004 words so far. That feels very good.
What are you excited about this week? I just can’t wait to write.
It has been a while since I have posted. And whenever it’s been a while, I become overwhelmed. I start to sweat and worry that the first post has to be worthy somehow and put all kinds of pressure on myself.
I went out of town for five weeks this summer. We started in LA, went to a conference in Orange County, flew up to Seattle to see the in-laws, came back to LA and, from there, drove to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Fresno (for a funeral, of all things). I rarely post when I’m on vacation and this trip in particular was so packed, I didn’t write at all.
At one point, Harlan said, “Let’s get up early every morning and leave Aidan with your parents so we can go write for an hour or two at a coffee shop.”
We didn’t do it one single time. I didn’t even make it to a yoga class until the day before our return to Boston. (And the class was so hard and I was so sore afterwards—yay, LA yoga!—I spent the flight cursing myself for being dumb enough to do my first class in a month the day before flying.)
I didn’t write. I didn’t work out. So what did I do?
I ran around with a cute dachshund named Gus, I watched Aidan run around with a cute dachshund named Gus, I played soccer in the park, I hiked up Temescal, I went to the beach (in Santa Monica, in San Diego, in Santa Barbara), I shopped on the Third Street Promenade, I watched a few movies (Blue Jasmine, Elysium and The Act of Killing in the theater, The Sessions and ET on DVD), I steamed and soaked at the Korean spa, I got a Thai massage on Abbott Kinney, I went to an English Beat concert (!), I visited friends, I visited family, I watched Aidan run through a kiddie pool, I watched Aidan fly a kite, I watched Aidan dig holes in the sand, I took him to his first water park (Aquatica, his new favorite place on the planet), I built Lego vehicles, I ate a lot of really good food…
Now that I’m back to my routine, there are lots of things that deserve a blog post:
• Being a single mom since Harlan left for LA to shoot a movie for six weeks.
• The insanity of after-school activities that I laugh at in other people and, at the same time, get completely swept up in myself.
• The joys of the yard sale: Purging the basement! Getting to know the neighbors! The am-I-ready-to-part-with-the-baby-gear debate! People paying me to get rid of my old crap! My kid hopped up on a month’s-worth of cookies and lemonade!
• The joys of fall: Foliage! Sweaters! Yard sales! Getting back to work! Unexpected days of sunshine! Shipping the kid off to school again! Finding inventive recipes for CSA head-scratchers like kohlrabi!
• The publication—finally!—of my essay in Elle (the iPad edition and website) about deciding whether or not to have another child after losing our second.
• All the pregnant ladies/All the pregnant ladies… (They are everywhere. They are as big as houses. They make me grit my teeth and beat myself up and question my resolve all over again.)
• Trying to burn off my ugly xanthelasma with garlic in front of the tube every night!
So many blog posts, so little time. And, more relevantly, so little motivation.
How about this? I did spend a little time last weekend answering the question, “What parenting journey are you on?”
A fellow mom blogger, Annabel Ruffell, posed it and posted my response on her blog Journey for Earth. You can read it here and see that, while I may not be posting as much as I’d like, I’m also not asleep at the wheel.
Yesterday I made the mistake of clicking on the bio of a one-time colleague. Scanning the list of publications in which her work appears, I felt my chest tighten, my temples throb.
Her resume read like my own might if I hadn’t crumpled it up and tossed it once I became a mom.
Sure, I’ve done a few things she hasn’t, like having a novel published and writing a screenplay for a studio. But those accomplishments, along with the bulk of my other professional successes, occurred a long time ago, in the period prior to my greatest creation: my son.
I am aware, of course, that Aidan’s existence and the magnificent work I do as his mom trump any article, book, screenplay or poem I could bring to life. But that fact never seems to help when I’m seething with jealousy.
Yes, this is plain, old-fashioned jealousy I’m feeling and, as always, I am aware that jealousy is an indicator of desire. My desires: I want to write more. I want someone to publish my work. I want, need even, further recognition—and validation—as a writer. Without those things, I end up reading friends’ bios and then spending the first hour of what should be an energizing yoga class feeling grumpy and thinking bitchy thoughts.
It doesn’t help that not so long ago I had a five-star writing week. Within two days, I completed two essays, both of which I’d been working on for a while, and confidently sent them to editors. In both cases, I received promising early responses: “I’d be happy to review it… Nudge me if you don’t hear back in a couple days!” and, even better, “Passing this on to editor in chief…”
That same week, I completed a draft of the first hefty chunk of my book and sent three chapters plus a proposal to my editor.
That week I was simply bouncy with optimism and pride.
Then came the silence. Weeks, in fact, of dead, hear-a-pin-drop-type silence. From both editors and my agent.
“Summer is notoriously slow,” a writer friend said when I called her stressed out. “Nothing happens around the 4th of July.”
Sure, true, but I remained dismayed.
The same friend once told me that she thrives on rejection. It fires her up, inspires her even, so psyched she is to prove the motherfuckers wrong! I tried to harness that energy. In my head I started reworking one of my essays to submit to the New York Times’ Anxiety column, should it be rejected from the national publication where it is currently languishing on an editor’s desk. I enjoyed the exercise actually and started thinking maybe the Anxiety column was where the piece really belongs.
Anyone familiar with the column knows where this is headed.
Just this morning, during breakfast, I was perusing last week’s Sunday Review. At the end of a fascinating piece about anxiety, I came across the following sentence: This is the final installment of Anxiety.
This was a blow I was unprepared to take. It struck me as personal. Almost expected. It seemed like a personal invitation hand-delivered to me to just stop it already with this silly fantasy that I can somehow claw my way back to the land of the working writer.
I was felled. Harlan’s face dropped when I told him. He looked so sad for me. Then he hugged me, comforted me. I was in need of comfort.
Can I return from the blow? Can I channel the energy of my wise friend and get to a place where instead of feeling dejected and sorry for myself, I feel energized, galvanized even to prove the motherfuckers wrong? Can I claw my way back to my writing life? Do I even belong there anymore? Can I get back to a place where I believe that I belong there?
I’m sure as hell going to try.
On the afternoon of the Boston marathon, as my five-year-old son, Aidan, watched Scooby Doo and downtown Boston dissolved into mass panic, I was checking email in Cambridge.
“Did you hear there were two explosions at the marathon?” a friend wrote.
I dove into the early stories in the Times and Globe, watched footage on NBC News online, scanned the mottled tapestry of prayers and love for Boston that Facebook had become. My father and sister called and a rush of “Are you okay?” texts appeared from New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, D.C. The whole world was trying to figure out what had happened and, in many cases, I was the one person they knew in Boston.
Their distress wasn’t just about two bombs going off and hundreds of emergency vehicles descending upon the finish line: Our national confidence had been shaken yet again. Even in a post-9/11 world where we have to take off our sneakers and flip-flops at the airport before we can board a plane, we still bring our children—our precious children—to public events and believe they will be safe.
I was living in New York on September 11th, 2001. After a disorienting morning, I made my way to the office where I worked as an editor for the film website indieWIRE. When I arrived on Fifth Avenue, I joined a crowd of strangers silently facing downtown Manhattan.
“What are we looking at?” I asked someone.
“The World Trade Center,” he said.
I stared down the long avenue, trying to make sense of the building I saw in the distance standing in a cloud of smoke. How could I have recognized the towers that had long graced our familiar skyline? There was only one. The South Tower had just collapsed.
Later that day, I hooked up with two friends and together we wandered the streets, visited a church, tried to donate blood. We hugged, cried and eventually settled onto bar stools at an East Village dive full of other aimless, dazed New Yorkers to watch Mayor Rudy Giuliani give a rousing speech on TV.
New York was my home, my family, the center of the universe. When malevolent strangers came in and stabbed my town in the heart, I felt is as if they had stabbed me in the heart, too. On September 11th, I was young and single. When I wept in that bar, I didn’t truly believe anything like that could ever happen to me. Being close to it, observing it, knowing people who had first- or second-hand stories was as close as I ever believed such terror would come to me. Now that I have a child, the idea that something like that could happen to me or, worse, him, is so awful that I can’t bear to think about it. I have no tears for strangers—or for entire cities. It didn’t occur to me to attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Boston attack. My only thought on that day was to protect my son. My son. My son. My son.
After talking to my husband, who called to say he was making his way home from his office in downtown Boston three miles from the bombsite, I called a friend who had gone to watch the marathon with her son who is Aidan’s age. We were supposed to go with them, but opted for a local playground instead. Aidan was getting over a cold and I wanted to stay closer to home. Now all I could think was: it could have been us. My friend, who had been a couple of miles from the blasts shortly before they occurred, was shaken. She was relieved to be home, but sad, frazzled. “Everyone was so full of joy out there,” she told me. “It was a day that was just so joyful.”
When I first learned of the attack, I was horrified that someone could do such a thing, horrified at the desecration of a public event that celebrates strength, endurance and personal achievement, horrified that a child just three years older than my own little boy had been killed. And when Tamarlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspects, was killed and his brother Dzhokhar left alone, I also couldn’t help but feel for this sweet-faced 19-year-old who was being hunted by every law enforcement officer in the Boston area, a kid, really, that a friend’s daughter who knew him from school described as, “the nicest guy.”
I thought about his mother and what she must be feeling—I couldn’t imagine, really. I wanted to understand what had made this boy commit such a bloody act. When he was finally found cowering, bloodied and freezing, in a boat, I found it incredibly sad that this young man’s life would be destroyed by this one reckless, unforgivable, act. It wasn’t until later that I thought about his victims, both dead and crippled, not to mention the endless ripple effect of friends and family of those whose lives would never be the same.
While September 11 left me a walking basket case, on Patriot’s Day, it was only when Cambridge went into lockdown that my emotions kicked in. Part of me believed lockdown was an overly extreme measure that was sure to cause unnecessary panic, as everyone remained inside, glued to the manhunt unfolding on TV, as they searched for a criminal who was “armed and dangerous” and out there, somewhere. But at the same time, as the threat moved closer to home, I was relieved that the local government was calling for maximum security.
As unlikely it was that the suspect was anywhere near my home—and my son—my head filled with images of bullets flying, a desperate, solitary figure crouched in my backyard, a hostage situation involving a madman and my beautiful boy, a stranger holding a gun to my child’s head. When my husband and son sneaked out into the warm Friday afternoon to play cards on the back porch, I forced them to come back inside.
“Lockdown means stay inside with the doors locked,” I said, determined to get them back inside, even as they shot each other “Mom’s such a worry-wart” looks.
It was only when the suspect had been apprehended that I was finally able to relax. The tightness in my chest released and I ran into the living room, where my husband was on the phone with his parents, and announced, “They got him! He’s in custody. He’s in custody.” For a moment, I was elated, because I knew my son was safe, at least for now.
Aidan was up coughing half the night.
Poor kid. He made it through winter with nothing more than sniffles and sneezes and then in the last two weeks has been slammed with a stomach bug, a fever, an ear infection and now this hacking cough that sounds suspiciously like a barking baby seal.
Aha, the tell-tale barking seal sounds, otherwise known as the croup.
We’ve been visited by this beast before and we know what to do: steam. There’s really not a whole helluva lot else you can do.
Last night I gave him dose after dose of homeopathic cough syrup, which had no effect, cranked the humidifier and put him to bed early. (I also gave him a bath and washed his hair, which would normally be a no-no when he’s sick, but he had his swimming lesson in the morning! So after a quick internal debate, I opted to get the chlorine off, even if it meant sending a coughing kid to bed with wet hair, and kicked myself as he shivered afterwards, his wet limbs covered in goosebumps.)
Between about midnight and 4am, Aidan woke himself—and us—up coughing too many times to count.
“Mommy, can you sing to me?” he’d say, as I sleepwalked into his room. “Can you read me a story?”
Each time I’d stagger in, he’d be guzzling water, coughing up a lung, searching for Kitty, grinning at me.
Between about 3 and 4:00, none of us slept, as he was coughed almost non-stop. I gave him more useless cough syrup, suggested more water, checked the humidifier (still steaming away). Harlan had had enough of my hippie mama remedies and went downstairs to fetch the Tylenol, which he thought might help him sleep, and a cough drop from my nightstand. It was neon blue and Aidan liked it for about three seconds.
“It’s minty,” he said, “too minty,” and spit it out.
I found a pack of honey-flavored ones and he liked the idea of that, but only managed to hold it in his gooey finger and lick it for a few seconds before declaring it “too minty,” too, and dumping it in a bowl I gave him to keep by his bed, in case he wanted it later.
I climbed in bed with him for a while, but he was too obsessed with stroking my face and telling me how beautiful I am and how much he loves me to sleep (motherhood rocks!), so I gave him a big shmoogle (just made that up, it’s a rapturous hybrid hug/kiss/cuddle) and fell exhausted back into my own bed, where I wrapped my arms around tired hubby and almost passed out until the cat started bellowing. Harlan went down and threw a glass of water in his face—his latest trick for getting him to behave, which works for a minute. Then the cat forgets all about it by 4:30 the next morning, when he starts his morose serenade all over again.
Harlan texted me this morning to make sure I’d given Aidan a cough drop to take to school with him. I told him Aidan doesn’t understand cough drops.
The rest of the conversation went like this:
“Fine…but it helped last night.”
“No! He kicked it for awhile and put it in a bowl by his bed,” and then: “Licked.”
“But his coughing stopped right away after he tried it,” he said.
“I think it was the Tylenol,” I said.
“Don’t be so anti cough drop. Embrace Western medicine.”
Last night I did finally embrace the Western medicine called Tylenol and I believe it’s what allowed him to sleep. That said, it’s easier to get me to cave at 4:00 in the morning. Basically I’m reluctant to put any type of medication into my son that they don’t sell at Cambridge Naturals. (I went there today to get a new brand of homeopathic cough syrup). That is, unless he’s in pain. When my baby is really hurting, my hippie mama morality flies out the window and it’s antibiotics all the way for the ear infection, Tylenol for fevers and even a cough drop for croup if we can keep it in his mouth for long enough to do the trick.
I ran into a new friend at the gym today—very cool dancer/filmmaker mom I met on the soccer field who moved here from Brooklyn—and she suggested Benadryl. I have a bottle on hand in case of bee stings. But I suppose if the coughing got bad enough and I was delirious enough, I would give it a shot.
But that’s only if Plan A doesn’t work:
Tonight we blast the hot shower and hang out in the steamy bathroom. I can see us now, sweaty, on the floor, joking around, maybe playing Uno. Then, counter-intuitively, once we’re dried off and bundled up, we step out into the cool night air and take big gulps of it.
These were the suggestions of Aidan’s school nurse and they’re the kind of cures this hippie mama tends to prefer.
I finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing a few weeks ago and have been meaning to write more about the things he says that terrify me.
Last time I talked mainly about the impossible goals he sets for writers and how badly they stressed me out. But almost as soon as I posted, I realized that there were other things that stress me out even more than being required to write for 4-5 hours a day.
Here’s a biggie:
Stephen King does not believe in outlines. And he doesn’t much like plot.
He has this wonderful, mystical belief that stories are like fossils that already exist somewhere, buried deep in the earth, in a lost canyon or maybe in your backyard, and it is the writer’s job to unearth it.
“The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible,” he says. “No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses. To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools: airhose, palm pick, perhaps even a toothbrush. Plot is a far bigger tool, the writer’s jackhammer. You can liberate a fossil from hard ground with a jackhammer, no argument there, but you know as well as I do that the jackhammer is going to break almost as much stuff as it liberates. It’s clumsy, mechanical, anti-creative. Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”
I plotted out my first book, Room for Love, meticulously. I spent months hammering out the plot before I started writing the actual book. I also plotted out every screenplay I’ve written. Plot is the hardest part for me, much harder than character or dialogue, which come relatively easily, so I figured it was best to work out the plot beforehand, create an outline that I could use as a map, and the story would flow. And it did: The story flowed.
“I’m a plotter,” I told myself and the audiences at my book readings. “I’m an outliner.” And I’ve always been perfectly comfortable with that. Until now.
“The good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice”? How can any self-respecting writer be comfortable with that?
He goes on:
“I lean more heavily on intuition, and I have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story… I want to put a group of characters in some sort of predicament and watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety—those are the jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot—but to watch what happens and then write it down…
A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What if question:
What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot)
What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)…
These were all situations which occurred to me, while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk and which I eventually turned into books. In no case were they plotted, not even to the extent of a single note jotted on a single piece of scrap paper.”
Nice, right? Listening to Stephen King wax poetic about his process makes me want to write like he does: intuitively, spontaneously, without overthinking, from the heart, as they say.
As if all that weren’t enough, King also stresses how important it is to write a first draft in total isolation without showing a word to a soul. Once the draft is finished, you’re allowed to show it to one trusted reader, preferably a spouse (if there’s one chomping at the bit), most certainly not a writing workshop, the whole species of which he has not-so-nice things to say about. (I’ve been sharing my work with a writing workshop every 2-3 weeks for the last 2-3 years.)
While hubby is reading (and keeping his opinions to himself), you (the writer) are supposed to stick that precious first draft into a drawer and keep it there for at least six weeks while you work on something else instead.
“Resist temptation,” he says, lest you get drawn into rewrites (and the self-loathing and/or self-congratulations that come with them) before you are ready.
“When you come to the correct evening (which you well may have marked on your office calendar), take your manuscript out of the drawer. If it looks like an alien relic bought at a junk-shop or yard sale where you can hardly remember stopping, you’re ready. Sit down with your door shut… a pencil in your hand, and a legal pad by your side. Then read your manuscript over…
If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.”
There is much in Stephen King’s book that inspires me. Truly, the book fired me up. And yet there is also much that made me feel bad about my process. That would not be the case if my process were working. Criticism only gnaws at you if there is truth to it and for me, there is truth to what King says.
I avoid writing by instead planning to write, i.e. writing notes, outlines, etc.
I get derailed by my writing group’s notes.
I reread and rewrite, rather than giving myself the time and space necessary to gain objectivity about what I have written.
It’s time to sit my ass in my chair and write for 3-4 hours a day. Or at least 2.
Consider my wrists slapped.
After completing On Writing, I took a deep breath and made some decisions. I polished the outline for my current book, but left the plot in broad strokes. I needed a time line for this particular book, because there are some tricky chronology issues that need to make sense, but I left large plot questions unanswered. I also told my writing group I wouldn’t submit any more chapters until this draft is complete.
I feel good. I feel ready.
And I end with a quote that simply inspires me (as opposed to scaring the shit out of me):
“I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side—I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.”