Remember my metaphorical peach orchard? Here in the winter of no moisture on Colorado's Front Range, I'm wondering how peach trees would survive such an experience? See. This wasn't the winter to plant the peach orchard, I pat myself on the shoulder. I stand looking out at my field of golden rye grass bending to the bitter winter winds and consider irrigation once more. I want to control future emotional flow and what ideas I develop in my orchard. Maybe I will need to invest in a system of survival that can sustain a peach orchard even during winters like this winter when there haven't even been two inches of snow accumulated. Life is like that, you know, for most writers -- a delicate balance of weather and sustainable methods of farming the mind. I've tended to lean towards weather (inspiration, climate change, and emotional storms) to write in fits and spurts, but the productivity of this method is questionable at best. For a more sustained effort, I need sustainable methods and environments.
Leading me back to setting goals. Eek.
There are a number of things that a writer must have to sustain writing:
- a room of one's own where quiet prevails for hours at a time, not even the breath of another to shake the mind from its trudging path
- energy for sitting that comes from regular exercise and diet that are maintainable and do not interfere with writing time
- enough sleep that the writer is not tempted to fall asleep in the middle of any given sentence -- for going to sleep on oneself is the writer's nightmare
- time enough to get going, and cruise along for a good long while before having to stop and do other things
- pencil and pad for notes and doodles that pop into the writers' mind when away from writing
- few distractions (Facebook, laundry, television, and other books are too tempting for words)
- willingness to play with ideas without expectations, and meander down a path that may lead nowhere or may lead to the essence of a story
- hope that someone, somewhere will be interested in the writing enough to publish or make note of it
- willingness to sacrifice the appearance of a full life in favor of loneliness and sort of an ascetic practice that may appear damaging to others.
This last thing may be the hardest for me as it requires a rationing of social outings to the very most basic events -- family gatherings, and a shared cup of tea once or twice a month. It is only this past year or two that I have understood that my penchant for extravagance in the social arena has had the price tag of not being a productive writer. I don't know why it took me so long to understand this. I had this very information in 1996, and I've been mulling it over and resisting it with every bone in my body for what appears to be 15 years. Fifteen years! This is just to tell other writers out there that this happens to each of us in different ways...the realization that sustaining a writer's life can require certain sacrifices we are unable to make until exactly when we are able to make them.
Just this past week I was visited by an old friend who exclaimed with complete innocence and admiration that she had some of the best times of her life when I threw parties and sleepovers and afternoon teas in my big house in luxurious L.A.. I turned away from her for a moment to cement a placid look on my face. Turning back I said that I appreciated her memories of good times, while internally realizing, and sort of holding a proverbial gun to my temple, that the cost of all of those parties and gatherings and extended weekends of talking and sharing had cost me in other ways that I was only now paying -- sort of like a debt payment that finally comes in for real. Good times may be this writer's worst enemy for they are the most tempting distraction ever for me, and feel, at the time, totally justifiable. I did not manage to write at all last week, the week of Christmas, for all of the good times to be had, but this I allowed myself. I was thinking that this is the season to set aside those larger goals and celebrate the moment...still...I didn't write much.
Now, I have to gather up steam again for figuring out how to irrigate my field with these seasonal celebrations without flooding or withering my crop with neglect. How do other writers do it? Am I destined to become a miserly curmudgeon with my time and giving so that I can write sustainably? Or is my reaction simply the equal and opposite to my previous life of putting writing off for a party? Will a balance be restored in 15 years so that I may have some friendly interactions and still write enough to attain...my unspoken, unwritten goals?
If I look forward into 2011, I suppose I hope to understand the writer's life even better than I understand it now. I hope to attain the necessary tools, space and time to afford this life choice and become as prolific as I know I can be as a writer. I hope that my proverbial peach orchard will be planted and irrigated and well-planned enough to sustain a few expected and a few unexpected turns of the weather. Are these goals within my ability to attain? In part they are dependent on my choices, but in part they are dependent also on grace. As goals, they don't look like much, and they are very self-centered, but there they are, a bag of chosen potentials, that I'll be carrying for a while on my staff.