Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Precious Time


I woke this morning to the dreadful realization that I’d forgotten to write yesterday’s blog post.

It was Memorial Day’s fault, of course. While long holiday weekends are right up there with cookies in my book, I admit they wreak havoc on my sense of time. It’s only Wednesday and I’m already wondering how I’m going to fit my weekly household chores, library visits and play dates into the few remaining days left this week. While relaxation is good for the soul, it’s obvious slowing down comes at a price. I scramble to recover the lost ground.

This concept affects every area of life. It seems like only yesterday I brought Julia home from the hospital, but somehow she’s just a month from turning three. In the same vein, I realize my novel has been waiting patiently for me to finish revisions for six long years. Six years! How did time get away from me like that?

I understand the lesson: slow down for a moment and time rockets by. Yet, as writers, our truth is often found in those things that we see only when we slow down. As writers, we must look closely and then reflect. These carefully crafted details, the artful connections, are where writing transcends from mediocre to well-wrought. Skillful construction creates a work that readers connect with and remember. (I know I, for one, will always remember E.B. White’s outstanding essay, “Once More to the Lake.”) So how do we balance observation, reflection and productivity to create a work that lives in the hearts of readers?

I don’t know. Clearly. I’ve been plugging away at Somewhere for seven long years (a year to draft, six years of sluggishly picking it apart). More than anything, I want to finish this thing, answer the call of Jamieson’s Folly, my next novel project. But I get caught up in wanting to do Beth and Shel justice. I take breaks to write short fiction, to brush the cat, to bake a batch of cookies. So I fumble along in fits and starts, only making progress one lonely chapter at a time.

Some would argue this is still progress. But I’m not so sure. It takes a long time to get back into the groove after one of my short fiction/cat brushing/cookie baking hiatuses. I lose the feel for Beth. Her voice becomes an echo rather than a shout. I have to rummage through the junk in my brain to reconnect. All of that takes precious time.

Time. Slow down for a moment and time rockets by. It’s daunting, perhaps too daunting after this holiday weekend. Perhaps I’ll worry about catching up tomorrow. For today, perhaps I’ll just bake some desperation cookies.

Desperation Cookies*

1 cup butter
1 ½ cups white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 beaten eggs
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups chips **
2 cups nuts ***

** use any combination of regular chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips, vanilla, cherry, or strawberry chips, or peanut butter chips—whatever you think will taste good. (I use semisweet chocolate.)

*** use any nuts you like, including walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, even peanuts. If you don’t have enough nuts, fill in with crushed cornflakes, rice krispies, coconut, raisins or other dried fruit. (I use 1 cup cranberries and 3/4 cup chopped pecans, plus a handful of rice krispies for crunch)

Melt the butter. Mix in sugars and stir. Add vanilla, baking soda, and salt; stir. Then add half the flour, the chips and the nuts. Stir well to incorporate, then add remaining flour and mix thoroughly.

Drop by teaspoons onto greased or parchment lined baking sheets, 12 cookies to a standard sheet. Bake in 350 degree preheated oven for 10 – 12 minutes, or until nicely browned.

Let cool 2 minutes, then remove cookies from sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 5 dozen.

* recipe originally from Joanne Fluke’s Peach Cobbler Murder, a Hannah Swensen mystery. (Note: this is a fantastic mystery series for those who like a good, old fashioned, cozy murder mystery. And these cookies are amazing.)


Stephen said...

I understand where you're at, Greta. Time seems to slip away from me, too. And stories already one foot in the grave are closing the lid to the coffin while time slips away. Even this morning, I cursed myself for not waking up like I wanted to (I turned off the alarm to lower the annoyance factor on my wife, only later to realize that it was time to get up and take my son to school), and I worry that Nick's story is suffering from my absence. Having a family, though, and being involved in all that comes with it, takes a hard toll on budding writers. But we persist because the call is too strong to just give up. So stay true to the call, even though Life forces these small detours on you. You'll get Beth's revisions done.

By the way, thanks for the reference to Joanne Fluke. I'll add her to my list of authors to check out.

Greta said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Stephen. Good to know I'm not alone.

Incidentally, I'm still fighting my Nick story, too. After about 8 rewrites on the beginning paragraphs, I let it cool over the weekend, only to discover it's still atrocious--in fact, more atrocious than ever. I know what I need to do, but I botch it every time.

Linda said...

Greta, I so resonate with this time slipping away thang you're talking about here. Even more, I hear the clarion call of my new projects. There's something about NEW writing versus REWRITING that is so satisfying.

But most of all, like you, I feel my protag's voice fading. I think this is part of the normal process of finishing, of ending a story and 'separating' from the world you created. For you cannot move onto a new world if the old one still haunts you.

Lucky me (I suppose), I get to hang out with Ben for story number 2. But in PURE he is different, changed' he's six years older and, therefore, wiser and quieter. And so in many ways I am creating yet another persona. I spend much of my free time wondering: how is he at 26? How has he changed physically, emotionally, spiritually in the past years? What are his wants and needs?

Anyway, I digress. Keep plugging away, finish. You won't be happy unless you do... Peace, Linda

Greta said...

Linda, your comments hit home. Isn't it interesting how strong the parallels are between parenting and writing? You give life, you nurture it, then eventually, you must let go. I think you're dead on when you say the separation is an integral part of the process.

I've considered writing a sequel to Beth's story at some point. In Somewhere, 13-year-old Beth goes through a baptism by fire. The events are so life-altering, I have to wonder what impact they'll have on her at age 18, at 25, even at 35. It's interesting to try to extrapolate a future Beth from the seeds planted in this story. I'd like to think she comes out okay, but I'm just not sure. The wounds are so deep, there's so much at stake. I guess I'll have to write the story to find out.

Thanks for the insights and for the reminder--I haven't stopped in at your place lately!