Alaska autumn, or what I learned from a writing binge

Autumn comes in fast up here in Alaska. One day it’s summer. The next the air cools and the wind becomes crisp and when you look up, you notice, with wonder and dread, that the leaves are already turning.

No! Leaves, don’t turn brilliant and beautiful red! I’m not ready for summer to leave.

I love autumn for all of its beauty and complexity, yes, but also for the darkness, which creeps in slyly, wrapping around the sky and pressing inside the house. Even though I mourn the long twilight evenings of summer (when it’s gloriously light past midnight), I’ve always been a night owl and there’s nothing I love more than sitting in the dark and writing for hours, the radio turned low, the cats and dog curled around me.

And that is what I’ve been doing. I spent Labor Day weekend with my butt firmly planted at my desk, writing practically nonstop for over sixty hours. I stayed up all night and slept a few hours during the early morning. Then I got back up and wrote some more.

I remained at my desk even when I couldn’t write, when my words dried up and my head ached and everything inside screamed for me to please, please, get up from the goddamned desk and do something constructive with the day.

Besides putting on about five pounds in less than three days (writing, it seems, makes a person horribly hungry), I learned a valuable lesson: You don’t have to be in a writing mood in order to write well.

I want to repeat this for emphasis: You don’t have to be in a writing mood or even in a good mood, for that matter, in order to write well.

In fact, I wrote best when I was tired or when my mind was blank or after the dog peed on the rug and I had to get up to stuff it in the washer. I wrote best while eating or singing along with Leonard Cohen or petting one of the cats that had inevitably jumped up on my lap.

I wrote the strongest sections after I turned off my mind and shut down my inner editor (You know that voice, don’t you? The one that criticizes everything you write? That expects every word to drop like a pearl?) and allowed my characters’ voices to siphon through.

Most of the throwaway sections (and trust me, there were many) were written when my mind was fresh, when I felt alert, when I was sure–positive– that I was writing well.

I’m not sure what to make of this. I can’t always write when I’m exhausted nor expect the dog to pee on the rug each time I need to write an emotionally difficult scene.

But I can stop censoring myself as to whether it’s a good writing time. I can stop trying to analyze my moods and second-guess if/when my muse might show up.

I don’t believe that I have a muse, and I don’t believe that there is a perfect writing time or mood, either. We write when we can find the time, and some days we write well and some days we write like hell, and in the end it evens it out. I wrote a sizable chunk of Dolls Behaving Badly while waiting to pick my son up from school and even drafted one scene while at the supermarket (I wrote part of it while balancing my small notebook on a cantaloupe).

Yet I still carry around the illusion of a perfect writing time in a perfect writing room at a perfect time of day. You’d think that I’d know better, but I don’t. I’ll probably have to (alas!) read this post over an over before my own lesson filters through this very thick head of mine.


Contest note: Congrats to Amiee M., who won last week’s contest by guessing the name of moose Barry befriends in Dolls Behaving Badly. The moose’s name was Nipper, or Nippy, for short. Be on the lookout for a signed copy of the book, Amiee, plus some decadent Alaska chocolate, which I promise to not eat. (The last time I did this, I ate the chocolate. So I bought some more. I ate that, too, hee, hee.)

Note: I have some great interviews lined up for this month and next, starting with one of my favorite bloggers, Jim Harrington, who writes Six Questions For …, which I am strangely fascinated with and can’t stop reading.

Second note: Nathan Bransford wrote a great blog post about Goodreads bullies. I guess some of them have gotten quite nasty. Check out The Bullies of Goodreads when you have a moment.

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