Friday morning on the last day of "Writing Week". I am plugged into laptop and Ipod at 7:00 in my counter seat at the coffee shop. I am grateful that it is cloudy and a little cool, so the pressure is off to be outside.
Over the next two days, over 20 family members will be on the Cape (staying in various locations, not all at The Cottage!) and the week will be full of firepits and s'mores, ORVing, kayaking, and Breakfast at The Beach. Tomorrow night, they converge on our house to celebrate the 45th wedding anniversary of our aunt and uncle and 3 graduations: The Mrs. Daughter who finished her Masters TODAY!; my Baby Sister who finished her Masters YESTERDAY!; and the oldest child of the Cape Cod Cousins, who leaves for college next week!
A little overwhelming to go from writing alone in the backyard to having over 20 people for a barbecue. I may hide under the coffee counter and hope they don't see me when they lock up tonight.
Where The Sidewalk Ends Literary Luncheon
Yesterday was one of the best days I have ever spent on the Cape. I was lucky enough to buy a ticket to one of the author luncheons that the bookstore in Chatham organizes each year. Where The Sidewalk Ends is one of those yummy independent bookstores that is housed in an amazing two-story building replete with fireplace and stocked with volumes to the ceiling; they even have a separate building just for children's books.
Every year, I forget to buy a ticket until they are sold out. This year, I remembered to buy one around Memorial Day and got a ticket for the last of the series, which was yesterday. I only was familiar with one of the speakers, Linda Greenlaw, but I didn't really care who the authors were since I had no choice in what date to select.
I've been excited about it all week, but that morning, I had a little hissy fit with myself about putting on make up and street clothes. WhatI I was really stressing over was going to a large luncheon where I would know no one and have to sit at a table with a bunch of strangers. I smacked myself around, gave myself the "Mommy Lecture", the little pep talk about making friends that I would give the kids right after our various cross country moves, and girded my loins. What the heck - it'd be over in two hours, anyway.
The Wequassett resort is beautifully landscaped and situated on Pleasant Bay. As you sit by the windows of the large dining room, you can see a sailing school taking out a little flock of catboats that criss-cross the bay. It was gloriously sunny and I stopped to admire the beautiful landscaping and to get up my nerve to go in and see where I was seated.
It wasn't so bad - - -
--- if you don't mind finding your single seat in a room full of 200 women, all of whom apparently have apparently known each other from birth.
After an awkward 5 minutes searching for Table 12, I ended up sitting with a darling group of 5 women who were in a bookclub. They were cousins, aunts, and a niece, were dressed exquisitely, and were intelligent, witty, and well-traveled. These women could not have been more welcoming nor made me feel more included than if they had been my cousins. I wanted to go home with them and be a part of their book club. I hope I see them next year.
I didn't really expect to get that much out of the author talks other than some funny anecdotes, but while I was sitting in this beautifuly appointed room and listening to these 4 diverse authors speak of their journey to pubication, I felt a little tear sliding down my face.
I got choked up when the author of The Art Forger recounted her story of writing NINE novels over 25 years and having them either be dropped from publication in a few months or remain unpublished. She had already picked out a completely different line of work after shopping The Art Forger to something like 30 publishers before Algonquin picked it up, and it made the NYT Bestseller list. I got very emotional when she fist-pumped into the air and declared, "I am an overnight sucess at 60 after writing 9 novels in 25 years!"
I'm sure I was not the only one wiping away a tear.
All the authors said something similar to the effect that this type of event is what they all imagined it would be like to be a published author. And how in fact the journey to get to this lovely creampuff of an event was nothing like they had imagined.
This is what made me choke up the most :
- They all agreed that writing a novel is the most solitary, lonesome, frustrating and tedious job you can have, and also the greatest act of faith in yourself that you will ever encounter. You will doubt your ability to write a sentence never mind to invent a story that anyone will want to read. You will spend your days alone, unsure, uncertain, afraid, and ultimately doubting the worth of a single word you put down on a page.
- You must, must, must keep faith in your own vision despite how slowly it is going, despite how muddled the story seems, despite how many different threads you have in piles all over the table. The act of writing is laborious, it is a job, it is thankless in the moment, and very, very lonely.
- Writing a novel is mulling over settings and characters that have lived in your head for years and connecting the dots to what seem like disparate and completly inconsistent stories until it all integrates as a novel.
- Writing a novel is not like writing a short story or an essay. It does not come to you with a beginning, middle, and end that you just have to transcribe. There is no road map in your head, (at least not in mine - yet).
- Writing a novel is fits and starts, two-page pieces about a certain character, pages of background, a stodgy beginning, interminable bouts of getting people to and from places, figuring out plot lines and relationships, and even the ancestry of the characters.
- Writing a novel is days debating with yourself on what era to place the story in, or whether it is the grandmother or the great grandmother who it happened to, and whether there are four siblings or three. And that you appear to have an extraneous couple whose relationship is unclear and somehow is going to make problems for the main characters but you are not sure yet how or why or if they are young or old.
- Writing is an act of faith in yourself for yourself about yourself. When you feel overwhelmed, you will doubt every second of your ability to do this, and when that happens, that is when the story is about to break open, and suddenly your characters develop and walk off the page with accents and family and skills and iterest you didn't know they possessed.
What made me cry was that this is exactly the message I needed to hear that day in that room at that time.
What made me cry is that Spirit brought me to the bookstore 3 months ago and made me ask about the series, and made me pull my wallet out despite the expensive price because I would hear the message that I would need to hear that day in that room at that precise moment.
. . . . . .
Not all my questions were answered, but I didn't raise my hand to ask any; the questions I needed to ask were too specific to ask in front of 200 people. But I got the only answer I needed for today:
- I need to accept the loneliness of the long distance runner in order to achieve my goal.
. . . . .
This morning, as I watched the people walking in and out of the coffee shop with their bathing suit tops and suntanned faces, I felt a little stirring of resentment. I am as pale as the day I got here and I've had my bathing suit on once so far. If I keep this pace up, I will go back to work tired and pale. I will never complete a first draft this week, why bother. Just close the laptop. You're in a lousy place in the writing/you're in a pretty good place to pick it up later on. You need to research a whole new area. You need to physically cut and paste what you've written so far. You deserve to get in the hammock and read all those books you brought with you. You have that art project you were supposed to finish. You have company - and a husband - that will expect you to participate in all the usual traditions of summer on the Cape.
Whew, Spirit had to wrestle me to the ground right in the middle of that crowded coffee shop to make me come up swinging against this attack of self pity and loneliness:
Yes, I am on my summer vacation. But when I cross the bridge back to real life, when I get up tht first morning to go to work, when I drive to the office, get in the elevator, swipe my pass, walk that airless hallway to my office, and start a 3-hour deposition on what medical treatment a non-English speaking person had for the last 6 months, what do I want to have brought home from these two weeks:
- a pound of fudge, a tan, and sand in my shoes, or
- a first draft of a novel?
Sometimes I think the Universe will just get tired of hitting me over the head so many times. I just hope that it never does.