Writer, Interrupted

A few months ago I wrote a blog post for someone called “10 Ways to Keep Writing over the Holidays.” My ideas are sound, and personally tested. I really did write part of The Crossing sitting in the mist outside Laguna Gloria while my son took an art class. I really do believe that the more I move my body the more profoundly I can connect to my creativity. And there’s no question that I do my best to prioritize joy. I have nothing to give to anyone or anything around me–and that includes my fiction–if I don’t find at least a little space to take in the ballet or meet a friend for wine.

Some of the other ideas I mentioned in that post aren’t sustainable. I’m happy to stay up every once in a while to get in some extra writing time. But when I stayed up night after night for two years because I had a toddler and no other time to write I eventually crashed. Taking a shortcut here and there–the example I gave in that blog post was buying cupcakes for my son’s holiday party instead of firing up my KitchenAid mixer–makes sense to me. But I don’t like taking shortcuts all the time. I don’t like half-assing anything.

The trick seems to be finding the right combination of staying up late and taking shortcuts and prioritizing joy.

I’m still learning.

I do know that I write best when I have a swath of time to immerse myself in my characters. Fifteen minutes isn’t enough. An hour isn’t enough. I need several hours–at least two, and ideally three–when I’m completely unplugged. No texts, no emails, no Facebook notifications. I remember my mother telling me once that when you’re deep in work and you’re interrupted it takes twenty minutes to fully reengage. I have a feeling that’s pretty accurate. For years I’ve ignored the doorbell and let my phone roll to voicemail. The few times I’ve answered, the first question I’m asked is if I’m okay. Not because I sound irritated as hell (though I usually am), but because I sound completely out of it. I am out of it. I’m somewhere else. I’m someone else.

Writing this today I can’t help thinking of that phone call Joel makes to James in 1999. He’s in the back room and he’s painting, and for the first time in so long he thinks he might actually be able to finish what he started.

Joel's Supplies

But he’s supposed to meet James, and when he finally picks up his phone to cancel their plans James won’t let him off get off the line. This is what happens next:

I turn back to my easel the second I end the call. But I can’t find the image. I try to coax it back, like a lover gone astray, let my eyes fall to my palette. The colors shimmer in the light. I touch my brush to the paint, then try a half a dozen strokes. Nothing. I take a step away, go into the kitchen and pour myself a glass of water. Take a few deep breaths. I can lose myself again; I’ve been interrupted more times than I can count over the years and slipping back inside has never been a problem for me. This time won’t be any different. Cracking my knuckles, I go back to the canvas.

Gone. 

I don’t want to lose the words in my head. I want to lose myself in my characters. I want those wide swaths of time. I want a few hours when I have nothing and no one to answer to except my Muse.

That’s how I write my books. Not in bits and pieces, not a handful of minutes here and a few seconds there. But by surrendering myself wholly and unreservedly.

My characters deserve nothing less.

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved.

My Own Exquisite Puzzle

“I could never write a book,” someone said to me recently. “It just seems so hard.”

But writing books feels so much easier than anything I’ve done so far today. Writing books feels easier than waking up this morning at 5:15 for no reason I could ascertain, then falling back asleep about five seconds before my alarm went off. Writing books feels easier than discovering we have a third “snow” day here in Austin, Texas, and knowing that the novelty has totally worn off for my bored, eleven-year-old son. Writing books feels easier than trying to convince my son that if he’s old enough to listen to music with explicit content on Pandora, he’s old enough to step up and feed the damn dogs. Writing books feels easier than trying to capture my terrier as he tears around my backyard, howling at the Weimaraner next door. Writing books even feels easier than writing this blog post, which I’ve done with interruptions to make hot tea and answer a phone call and retrieve my son’s favorite stuffed bat from the clutch of that demon terrier’s tiny jaws.

Getting into Joel’s head and writing his story? That’s nothing. It’s not even work. It’s the best kind of play. Even revision doesn’t feel tedious to me.

Occasionally when I’m on Twitter I see tweets from writers talking about how difficult they find the writing process. I never understand.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I find the process effortless. Sometimes the words don’t come as quickly. Sometimes I work for hours and come up with nothing more than a single paragraph. But even then I don’t feel like I’m working. Instead I feel patient and grounded and wholly curious about what comes next.

In The Crossing, Joel says:

James is […] something I can’t wrap my head around under the best of circumstances, and which tequila renders downright impossible. He’s mystifying, a puzzle exquisite in its intricacy, the one thing I want to figure out. At the same time he’s the simplest thing I know right now, my one constant other than the painting, as sure as the feel of that brush in my hand.

I feel the same way about my work.

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved.