On Becoming a Writer

One of my goals in this new adventure of quasi-homesteading at Halcyon is to write.  I enjoy writing as much as good reading.  Towards this endeavor, I received some great advice from an accomplished writer this summer at a party.  She told me that the best way to practice writing is to write 1000 words each day.  The amount of time that this takes does not matter and it is important to stick to around 1000 words because too much can burn you out for the next day.  Obviously, the practice part of practicing was crucial.  Maybe this is why I have trouble sticking to that exercise plan of mine.  Her advice sounded doable to me.  On our last sabbatical in Spain, I was able to create a writing rhythm for about three months where I wrote 500-1000 words each day to ‘complete’ a 38,000-word draft – my first attempt at fiction.

Her advice also excited me.  That night I found myself wide-awake at 3 am drafting in my head.  I do this all the time when mowing or walking or on a long drive by myself, but never in the middle of the night.  I am pretty practiced at sleeping.  So I woke up the next day ready to start.

There is only one problem to this wise advice.  I forgot to ask if this practice should occur before or after I’ve worked outside in the yard with 90-degree weather.  You see I’m also very practiced at yard work.  I am not sure what equivalent measure of yard work per day compares to 1000 words of writing per day, but I’m pretty sure I do reach whatever measure it is.  This summer I worked on the property from 8 am-12 noon and then often from 1-3 pm.  My plan was to write from 3pm-5 or 6 pm each day, and then switch roles to gourmet chef . . . or at least heat up some leftovers.  You can guess my problem.  I was pretty tired by 3pm.

I’ve kept a log since receiving this advice.  I love logging personal challenges because it helps me to keep at whatever goal I am attempting.  I also must have whatever gene Thomas Jefferson had that compelled him to record so much of his life.  I did really well the first two weeks, but Halcyon’s summer chores kept me busy.

Now it is fall.  My blog is a month old.  I’ve been able to write every week, but I’ve not been writing daily.  It seems the quasi-homesteading part of my endeavors take up a lot of time.  Since late August, my kitchen looks more like a workshop than a place to cook family meals.  I’ve cabbage and cucumbers fermenting in crocks and jars with notes about when I started and when I taste them.  I’ve got three different compost bins set up.  One is our regular compost, one is for coffee grounds and tea bags that get dumped on my blueberries, and one is for scraps the chickens might like.  I’ve canned tomato sauce, salsa, split pea soup, chicken soup, and cherries.  I built shelves in the room off the kitchen to store the canned goods and harvested garlic and winter squash, along with all the canning supplies.  I’ve started keeping notebooks for reference.   I’ve one for yard maintenance (a fancy term for weeding), for the vegetable garden, for the chickens, for native plants I find at Halcyon, and for monthly chores.  Jefferson would be proud.

Cabbage, cucumbers, and zucchini fermenting

But I’m worried about the writing. What if I can’t make it?  When I said that one of my goals in my new life adventure is to write, I neglected to say that this has been a dream since 1992   – the year I read Winter by Rick Bass.  While reading that book, I smiled, laughed out loud, cried, and wished for more when it was over.  It was the first time I ever thought, I want to make someone else feel that way.  But I was busy and I didn’t think of myself as a writer.  Eight years later I published my Masters in Environmental Studies thesis on muskrat disturbance in a fresh water tidal wetland.  It was a peer-review ecology journal and it was a big deal for me at the time.  I’m pretty sure it didn’t make anyone laugh or cry, except maybe me, and the laughs were maniacal as I struggled through the publishing processes.

Herbs frozen in butter to use in soups and stews

In 2003, I published a paper in Molecular Ecology Notes based on work I was doing at the time isolating microsatellites from red-backed salamanders.  The only way this work could make someone cry was if they were attempting unsuccessfully to duplicate the results for their own research.  Forget laughing; science writing of this kind is necessarily dry.

In 2004-2005, I was back in school to get a Masters in Teaching degree.  For our Foundations in Education class we were told the final would be a take home paper.  I thought this was great, until I got the assignment on the last day of class.  We were to read five papers and choose three to critique.  Each paper had to be 5-8 pages long.  Three 5-8-page papers due in a week!  I drove home angry and panicked; this was a seemingly impossible assignment.  In this panicked state I found myself at midnight reading the articles.  They were good, they got me fired-up, and I really enjoyed writing the essays.  The best part was when I got the papers back.  My professor wrote, “Wow, Lisa these are the best papers of the whole class.”  This is the first moment where I thought that maybe I could become a writer.

Of course, soon I was teaching elementary school and I was doing a lot of writing.  Lesson plans!  They consumed me for the first few years.  But I also wrote several grants and grant reports because of environmental education projects I was doing on our school’s outdoor trail and classroom.  My most favorite project involved students making podcasts for other students to learn about aspects of the trail.  The first year we studied trees and the second year, birds.  In 2011, I published a paper in National Science Teachers Association’s Science and Children journal on this project.

So I’ve three peer-reviewed science papers published.  This does feel good, but I’ve been itching to try fiction and essays.  Something different.  And that 38,000-word draft I wrote in the beginning of 2011?  I haven’t looked at it since we left Spain.  It seems teaching full-time and having 14 acres that needs at least minimal tending did not blend well with writing.  This is one reason I decided to leave teaching.  Now I am worried that writing and Halcyon maintenance might not blend well either.  I can only hope that the plants’ dormancy and mine are out-of-sync.  And oh, good news for today!  I’m at  . . . 1,165 words.  I sure hope that’s not a problem for tomorrow.

Homemade little pantry

 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “On Becoming a Writer

  1. I too just revived an old dream about writing. I started my first novel while on vacation at the beach in NC in 2000. Scratched out about 13 chapter (half of the first book in a series of 5, according to my last plot summary) by 2004 then allowed life to get in the way. Renewed my passion last week at the Jersey Shore, by going back to absorb and edit those 13 chapters and revised the plot summary, based on the current narrative. In 2004, according to a note that I found in my journal, I was trying to follow John Grisham’s advice to write a page a day – that is about 500 words, but will now aspire to somewhere between that and the 1000 your source recommends. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I think the 1,000 words a day is a more realistic goal for someone who doesn’t have all that other stuff on their plate that you have! Don’t you dare think of giving up knitting to make it work! ; ) Perhaps, when things outside go to sleep for the winter, your writing pace will pick up…..

  3. Lisa,
    Maybe you should consider putting some thoughts to paper early in the morning; just a quick outline and then come back to it in the afternoon. This way you will have captured that early morning energy and won’t have to “start” something in the afternoon, you are just finishing it and you will be developing it in your mind while you work in the garden. By my reckoning it will still take you two hours to write 1000 words.

    • It works well for me to start a writing session with revision. It gets me in the writing mood. Being outside first is really helpful for drafting in my head, and of course for finding topics to explore. So, I like the pattern of working outside in the morning and inside in the afternoon (it also gets my joints moving). But cold mornings are probably going to change that!

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