Chocolate and Tears

Some of you know that I tutor children in creative writing. I’m very careful about selecting these students, in part because I don’t profess to have a set of rules about how to write well. Honestly, I’m not even sure good writing can be taught. Encouraged, perhaps. But the writing processes of the authors I know don’t add up to any sort of rubric. What I offer the few children I work with on a weekly basis is the freedom to write what they want, without fear. I give guidance, certainly. But mostly what I do is hold space for them to get to know their characters and feel their way forward as writers.

Last week, when I arrived at Isabel’s house for our two-hour session, she had a tea party laid out for us.

tea party

We chatted for a while, and then she told me her news. She’d finished writing her novel.

Isabel is twelve years old, and she’s good. Edge-of-your-seat good. There’s no doubt in my mind that you–or your children, because she writes books for young adults–will read her books at some point. The novel she just finished is her second. She started writing it the first week of November. It’s 91,000 words. If I could write that fast, you would’ve had my third novel years ago.

After Isabel told me her news, she added, “And that’s why I spent Wednesday crying and eating chocolate.”

I knew instantly how she felt. So often, people don’t understand. They think the finished product, the book launch, the reviews, the sales… are the point. They’re important, of course. I love sharing my books with my readers, and those of you who take the time to write to me personally to tell me how these men have affected you have a special place in my heart. But there’s something about what happens between a writer and her characters when the last word has been written but the book hasn’t yet been shared.

I feel a profound connection to my characters, and to the stories I’ve written. I live an alternate reality for years. When the story’s over, the heart breaks.

Isabel’s confession felt especially resonate because the day she finished her novel, I finished writing Part Two of my third novel. I don’t usually write in a linear fashion–as a matter of fact, the last scene of Part Two was the first scene I wrote–but for some reason Parts One and Two appeared first this time around. (Part Three remains to be written.) I finished Part Two, and I cried, and I started a read-through of what I have so far.

The read-through took a week, and I’ve had to take the last few days to recuperate. To cry and eat chocolate. What’s getting me through is knowing I still have Part Three to write. I’ve started, of course, and I know what’s going to happen.

But I have a little time before I’ll need that chocolate again.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Sharing Space

Steeping RoomI used to write alone. I preferred my office, the familiarity of my own desk, the proximity of my electric kettle and a full container of breakfast tea. I’m not someone who gets distracted by laundry and unmade beds, partly because I’m not the type to leave my bed unmade much past the time I wake up in the morning, but also because once I’m working I’m vigilant about blocking out anything else. I don’t answer the phone, I don’t respond to texts, I don’t sift through the bills. I hold my writing space sacred.

A few months ago I started a new writing project that, while fictional in nature, doesn’t revolve around Joel and James and Adam. This is something peripheral, just for fun, and because a friend of mine was starting a similar project I asked her to come over one night so we could work in tandem. We chatted a bit but mostly we wrote and drank wine. I invited her to return.

Somehow that evening opened the door to another friend, then another. After a few weeks, to escape the house for a few hours when my son was in summer camp–he’s a bit of a homebody and as a single parent I often find myself at home in the evenings–I started writing at Steeping Room, a tea house not far from where I live that allowed me to sit outside, drink beautiful coconut tea and disappear into Joel’s voice. (That peripheral writing project still feels very peripheral.) At first I showed up alone, but soon those same friends who’d found their way to my home in the evenings started meeting me at Steeping Room. Austin experienced a mild summer and for a while we were happy sitting outside, but the heat eventually drove us indoors, where some of us switched to hot tea and others indulged an addiction to iced tea and simply brought along a sweater.

I’m there often, often enough to know the wait staff by name and for them to be familiar enough with my preferences that they quietly slip another glass of beautiful coconut tea beside my laptop without having to ask me what I want. A year ago I would’ve insisted that I couldn’t work amidst such chaos, but I would’ve been wrong. As long as I have earbuds with me, I have no problem shutting out the lunch crowd.

Still, I have to stay out of my own way. The friends I meet there are among my very best. I light up when I see them, and I want to talk to them. Every so often I do. But most of the time I resist. The temptation of my fiction feels far greater, and I know that once I’m in that world I’m in deep. Pull me out and I’m probably pissed, because I know what I’m losing when I turn my attention elsewhere: the perfect paragraph, the right turn of phrase, at the very least the train of thought that will get me exactly where I want to go.

Sometimes I think about Joel, about that moment in The Crossing when he’s painting and decides he’s too deep in the process to meet James for a drink. He makes the call to cancel, then finds himself stuck in a loop of justification.

The more time I have to spend explaining myself the harder it’s going to be getting back into the paint. Already I can feel the image I’ve been seeing loosening its hold, fading into the background.

I know from experience that it doesn’t take long to lose that image, and sometimes it’s crushing when I do. So I’m judicious about who I ask to meet me. And though I almost always see someone I know while I’m there–someone who shows up to meet their own friend, for their own reasons–I usually don’t linger.

A week or so ago I was writing with my friend Amie when someone dropped by to see her. Amie has only been writing for about a year and a half but she’s so lost in her first novel it’s breathtaking. Sharing space with her feels magnetic, and though I pulled my earbuds out long enough to say hello when her friend arrived I went right back to my writing. After he left Amie told me that he could feel the energy surrounding us as he approached our table.

I can feel it, too. And I want to hold it close.

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved