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Temporarily Kid-less, A Writer Forgets to Write

August 13, 2012 Fiction, Humor, Writers, Writing 11 Comments

By Juliette Fay

I’d fantasized about it for months: the week when all three of my boys, ages 16, 12 and 10, would be at overnight camp. My 18-year-old daughter would be home, but this barely counts, since she’s gainfully employed, self-sufficient, and has a busy social life. I love my kids, but let’s be honest, a week off duty for the first time in 18 years was not unwelcome.

Both younger boys were also gone the following week. The parenting factor remained extremely low, however, because the 16-year-old avoids parental intercession as if it were extra homework. One day that week his dad and I asked him if he wanted to go to the beach with us.

“Just me?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’ll be nice,” I said.

He gave us his signature half-smile-eye-squint that reads Highly doubtful.

(He stayed home and built a raft out of scavenged logs with 30-gallon Rubbermaid buckets lashed underneath. A couple of days later, he and a friend paddled it out across a nearby lake. I was calling them Tom and Huck. Don’t worry, they wore life jackets. See pictorial proof above.)

During the preceding months, the anticipation of these two low-parenting-factor weeks had been delicious. I nurtured it like a seedling through the spring whenever life got more hectic than the high-alert level that we at the Fay house generally enjoy. It was my favorite self-soother whenever I wasn’t getting much writing done.

I would mentally list the vast amounts of work I would accomplish: finish the last third of my next novel, prep for the fall release of my current novel, update my website, write several blog posts, exercise every day, spend quality time with my husband and clean out the boiler room.

That was the plan. (Laughs hysterically at own naiveté and general ridiculousness.)

Actually I did get a lot of those things done, which is great because just ramping up for a novel release is far more involved that it’s ever been. By comparison, when my first novel, Shelter Me, pubbed in January 2009, I wasn’t on Facebook yet, and Twitter wasn’t really part of normal life. (Seriously, there was a world before Twitter, no lie.) I wasn’t much of a blogger. My “tour” was limited to a few drivable locations.

So I was feeling pretty accomplished during those two weeks, between that and exercising and spending much needed time with my smart, funny, thoughtful and devilishly handsome husband. We’ve had so little alone time recently I’d almost forgotten.

I even cleaned out the boiler room and gave away all the no-longer-relevant sports equipment. (Personal obsession: getting rid of stuff. If I could choose between that and simultaneously reading, eating mint chocolate chip ice cream and getting a pedicure, I would still choose getting rid of stuff. Weird, I know, but that’s my thing.)

What I did not do was complete the last third of that next novel. Okay, no real surprise there, but I barely got even a couple of pages written. This was so strange! I was looking forward to it more than anything else, including getting rid of stuff! (Not including time with my husband, though. That would sound cold.)

I can’t really explain it. Maybe I thought that with such a seemingly vast amount of time, I’d get to it after I’d checked off all the have-to boxes. Maybe I should have noticed sooner that the writing wasn’t happening and made a course correction.

I went for a walk with a friend recently who’s at a very interesting point in her life, ripe with possibility. Kids getting older and moving out. She’s been taking on smaller projects for years, but never quite finding that thing that truly blows her hair back. She’s always fantasized about writing but has never taken the leap.

“Now’s your chance!” I said.

But she’s hesitant. “What if it doesn’t work?” she said finally. “What if it never gets off the ground?”

Of course. We all feel that way. The reality is rarely as good as the fantasy, because fantasies don’t include the false starts and wrong turns and setbacks that real life always involves. And if she tries it, and it doesn’t work, she’ll loose the fantasy, too.

I think there may have been a little of that going on for me when I forgot to write during those two weeks this summer. I’m always wishing for more time to write, but if I get it, what if it’s not nearly as wonderful as I think it will be? What if it starts to feel like drudgery?

What if—and I think this may be the thing—what if that high voltage bolt of happiness I get from writing is partly about the fact that I can’t do it whenever like. Could a person read, eat ice cream and get pedicures all day every day? No, because you’d be in insulin shock and your feet would be screaming “For the love of God, leave me alone!”

My kids came home, which is nice because I really did miss them. I’m not getting nearly as much work done, but the fantasy is in tact. Besides, the kids loved overnight camp and want to go back next year. (Hot diggity!) And all is well.

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Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Kathy Crowley Kathy Crowley says:

    Juliette —
    I can relate to this piece on so many levels —
    1. getting what you think you want does not always play out the way you thought it would,
    2. I, too, can pack an incredible number of achievements into a fantasized stretch of “free time” and
    3. I LOVE GETTING RID OF STUFF!

    But, what I really want to know: what happened to the raft?

    • Juliette Fay Juliette says:

      As you can probably gather from the picture, the thing handled like a bathtub full of water. It was fun to freak out other boaters (if you could call it a “boat”) but after a couple of trips they unlashed the buckets and threw the waterlogged timber into the woods. And welcome to the AACU! (American Association of Chuckers United). Have you gotten into Freecycle.org? It’s the best way to get rid of stuff without sending it to the landfill.

  2. Hear hear to fantasy time management!

    My how-to-use-time fantasy habit kicked in when my first child was born, and I’d dream about how I’d use the next naptime. I’d like to say I’m a recovering fantasizer, but not so much….and it might be because the fantasy, the mental identification of what you think is most important to you, is an important part of the process. And to seeing which parts actually get done, sometimes unexpected.

    Maybe the truth is that you’re best as an under-duress writer, Juliette?

  3. Juliette Fay Juliette says:

    Very interesting point about the mental identification being an important part of the process — I definitely had a kitchen sink approach. Also, I think that, like you, catching little pieces of naps, late nights and early mornings for so many years, two whole weeks sounded like a gargantuan piece of time, practically boundless. I’m surprised I didn’t add something like “hike the entire Appalachian Trail” to the list.

  4. Stefanie Levine Cohen says:

    You have EXACTLY summed up my summer, as well as the fantasy beforehand. Well, none of my kids built a raft, but I share all the rest of it. Shouldn’t be surprised, since it’s happened for a few summers running now. I keep reminding myself that the serious percolating takes place during the “doing everything else” phases. I have six days left–and the fantasy remains, but with a veil of knowledge that the complete new draft that I was going to write this summer probably will require the crisp air of fall and the promise of new school supplies.
    Thanks for the validation!

  5. Michelle James says:

    Juliette, I can definitely relate to all of the above. The thought of time alone when you are in the midst of raising a family is pure fantasy. It is such a rare occurrence and the list of things you want to do with your “own” time is so long. Even to break it up into different goals for each day (or hour) always stressed me out. Now the tables are turned. I have all the time in the world to do the “me” stuff and fantasize about having them all home again with all the confusion, clutter, noise, and yes, the work that goes with it. I have no doubt your writing will get done in its time.
    Loved their enterprise, even if the raft sank.

    .

    • Juliette Fay Juliette says:

      You’re so right, Michelle. It won’t be long before I’ll be wishing for more time with my kids home. My first is leaving for college on Saturday, and I’m already in mourning.

      Luckily the raft didn’t sink, but it did get so waterlogged it was hard to transport, so they threw the logs back into the woods, satisfied that the experiment had worked.

  6. Leslie Greffenius Leslie Greffenius says:

    Such a lovely piece, Juliette. I, personally, am amazed by how much you did get done in your time off! When I sold my business, I fantasized a lot about how much writing I could get done when I no longer had to wake up at 4 am to do it. And what happened? For a very long time, I wrote much, much less than I did when I was working twelve hours a day. It’s taken me a long time to get back into the discipline that I had then. LIke you may be, I am an under-duress writer. In order to go back to writing, I had to manufacture my own duress.

  7. Juliette Fay Juliette says:

    “Manufactured duress” — love it, Leslie! We should package it and sell it. It would go like hot cakes.

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Juliette Fay

Juliette Fay
Juliette Fay’s latest novel, The Shortest Way Home, was chosen as one of Library Journal‘s top 5 Best Books of 2012: Women’s Fiction. Her first novel, Shelter Me, was a 2009 Massachusetts Book Award “Must-Read Book,” a Target Bookmark Club selection, and on the American Booksellers Association’s Indie Next list. Her second, Deep Down True, was short-listed for the Women’s Fiction award by the American Library Association. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and four children. When she’s not trying to keep track of her kids or daydreaming about her next story, Juliette can be reached through her website at www.juliettefay.com. Read Full

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