Thursday, November 17, 2011

Words in the washing pile: finding creativity amid the “everyday.”

Karin Cox is a professional editor in Australia (don't let that stop you from sending a manuscript for her review!) and the author of more than 28 non-fiction titles. In 2010, she published her first ebooks Growth and Cage Life, which between them have attracted more than 35,000 readers. We "met" through a link after a link after a link--perhaps one link too many that night, but turns out to have been worth the time at the bar.

This year, for the first time in my writing life, I signed up for NaNoWriMo. Actually signed up that is—publicly put it out there that I would strive to write 50,000 words in just thirty short days. So far, more than halfway into the month, I’m at just over 10,000 words. Fail! I’m still hoping to catch up, but if I don’t, I’ve made peace with my failure on this account. I know the reason is that my “everyday” took precedence over the time to do the one thing that I, like many writers, consider a luxury: actually writing.

“But,”—I hear the screams of ten thousand rabid NaNo-ers—“that’s the point. NaNo is about sacrificing the everyday for once, not about sacrificing your precious writing time AGAIN!” My answer to that is, “Try telling that to a seven-month-old girl who has no way of knowing why mummy sits tapping at a keyboard all day. Try telling that to a man who does hard manual labour in the hot sun for more than eight hours a day and then steps in the door to be handed an irritable child and have to make his own dinner so I can write. Try telling that to clients who are patiently awaiting their edited manuscripts so they can make their own writing dreams come true before the Christmas Kindle rush. Try telling that to the dishwasher, to the vacuum cleaner, to the ever-growing washing pile!”  

It might sound defeatist, or like an excuse, and in some ways it is. And I am disappointed that my novel won’t be finished by the end of the month as I hoped, and that it won’t now make that Christmas Kindle rush. But I realise, as the month goes on, how ambitious it was of me to attempt to sacrifice my everyday to the Grand Poobah of Word Count in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I have also written more than 4000 words of a novella this month. I have edited more than 150,000 words of other writers’ works, and I’ve written more than 2000 words of a commissioned non-fiction book. All of those words are paying words—words that keep the wolves at bay and pay the mortgage; at present, my NaNo word count does not (and that’s a very good thing, judging by my current results). The biggest factor is that, in the juggle between creativity and the everyday, my everyday life wins out. I can’t forgive myself for putting writing above my family, my house or my friends—not even for a month.  

A month in the life of a small child is an aeon. This month, my daughter learned to sit unassisted. She learned to properly crawl, not just commando roll around. By the month’s end, she will probably say her first recognisable word (please let it be “Mama”). This month, I got back to nature and camped with my sister-in-law and her lovely family at the beach. This month, my parents who live more than eight hours away, came to visit their youngest grand-daughter for a weekend. This month, one of my dearest friends, whom I’ve known more than twenty years now, flew back to Australia from Scotland for a brief visit. Even while writing this post, I stopped to take a Skype call from a very dear friend who lives in London. These are everyday things, the comings and goings—and lovings and laughter—of friends and family, the small satisfactions of paid work, the smiles of a child. Yet all of these them are considerably more important to me than 15,000 words (the amount I have fallen behind). Essentially, life is not a word count. Life is not something you do when you’re not writing. Writing is something you do WHILE you’re living your everyday. The everyday IS the writing. The meaningful discussions you have with the people you care about are the true word count.  

Every day, tiny gems fall out of those relationships. Seeds of novels and stories are born from thoughts that happen while I’m at the sink, at the gym, in bed, reading, feeding my child, washing my dog. And when I do have that blissful time to write, these everyday moments will blossom from the page, adding an honesty that is difficult to merely “imagine.” These are the truths the old chestnut “Write what you know,” speaks of. There is another writing adage that relates to this topic “Write every day. Writer’s write!” And that is true. Regardless of how busy I am, most days I find the time to write something—a blog post, a poem, an outline, even a sentence or two. Sure, there are days when I feel a volcano of resentment boiling inside me. When an idea is burning itself into my brain like a brand, and all I want to do is lock myself in my study and scrawl it down, oblivious to the squalling and sweepings, the feedings and fussing of the household. But then I realise that the idea came to me in a rare moment of peace—while folding the washing, or in a rushed shower, or while feeding my child—and that it stemmed from something that had cropped up during my ordinary day. Yes, there are many rare finds in the washing pile (aside from the five dollar notes I sometimes, but more rarely these days, find in my partner’s pockets).  

Strangely, I have also discovered that my creative brain has a way of compensating for my overcrowded everyday. As my life grows busier, my creative output actually increases. The less time I have to write, the more writing I do, because those snatches of time become far more precious. There is no time for writer’s block. No time to procrastinate (Unless you count Facebook, and let’s face it, who does? Facebook is a necessary part of promotion. More excuses? Perhaps). My limited time also means that I am less likely to dismiss any idea out of hand. I clutch any small stem of an idea, treating it like a creative branch overhanging the roiling river of life. All of my ideas are now hastily scribbled down and left to germinate, or in some cases, to petrify and fossilize until I unearth them years later and dust them off. Then, when I find the time—and I am assuming that I will, that my everyday will sometimes include rare breaks, beautiful moments of solitude and space for washed-clean, sparkling prose—I will take those ideas, those “washing-pile words,” and I will grow them. I will knit in a little of my everyday, and a little of my imaginings, and I will craft them into novels that transform some other reader’s everyday into something extraordinary. Perhaps not this month. Perhaps not this year. But “everyday” is still one day closer to that dream.  

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