These last few weeks I’ve been immersed in the final edits of my novel. It’s the slow time for my gardening day job. I sit for two-hour-long chunks (or more) and I read and type words. This has been productive. I’ve lived in the world of my novel: Paris, plants, the people I’ve created. I hear nothing else except the dog barking occasionally, the hum of the heater blowing warmth in the room. I can concentrate, I can think, “No, ‘harsh, steady rain’ is better here because I used ‘downpour’ two paragraphs before.” I imagine the railing on a stone building, imagine my protagonist examining a plant, and create words to describe these things. It’s empowering. I have the power to create a world with something so simple as an arrangement of words.
The Silence Interrupted by Other Words
Time of course evaporates when I’m in this meditative state. Then my kids come home, one by one, and the situation changes. While I’m thinking, “What does he (my protagonist) see when in the car on St. Honore and what would be reflective of his story about it?” I hear my son come up the stairs. Sometimes he goes straight to the bathroom, sometimes he says hi, and sometimes he has words to ask or say to me. Eventually, as my two daughters stream in, the puzzle of what I’ll include in my story dissolves into which snack I’ll get up and make for the kids. And then, their words: A form needs to be signed. Can I go to the pool with a friend? A boy fell on the playground. I drew a dinosaur. We have a concert in two weeks. And on and on and on.
Soon, the last trickle of words and thoughts I had for my novel are drained. They disappear into the activity of my kids running around, talking to each other, asking permission for whatever, bickering, water running, doors closing. It’s transition time. If I return to the book, I feel displaced. Where was I? I was going to change the phrase on a street sign in the story but what was the new phrase I’d thought of? So I close my computer and move on to the mundane task of unloading the dishwasher.
Others’ Words Fill My Head
There are moments, when a child isn’t coming in the kitchen, where I have quiet alone time. But creating in miniscule windows is impossible. So on the radio goes as I do chores that can be interrupted. Voices talk about the drug dealers camping in RVs in Seattle. A commercial warns of gum disease. If I switch the station, NPR’s discussing Syrian refugees. If I switch again, Adele is singing “I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be…” A podcast jokes about Uber and the Eagles Club. The phone rings and my mother talks about mice in her basement. For each set of minutes that I hear these words, I travel to these places. I think about these issues. I feel, I worry. This is what fills my head. This is me now. A receiver of changing words and emotions.
Silence During Writing Is a Gift
Silent time is the most precious thing to a writer. There are no words and emotions coming at you. You are in control of creating them. And yet we’re social beings. We have families, friends, workplaces, a society with events. But lately, in these immersed days, I’ve realized that though I have housework and correspondence and errands to complete, the silent creating has to come first. So I’m not just reacting to the outside world’s words, but sitting with my own. Spending time where I imaginatively want to be. In a place that feeds my soul. In a place where I accomplish something important to me. That I even get some hours of the day and evening to be in that imaginative space is a gift. The best part is the more I get that gift of my own words, the more I can later give back to the world’s.
Every day that I haven’t been working in a client’s garden, I’ve been revising my novel. I stay inside and sit, feeling my body spreading out in a weird, sedentary ooze. I have a Fitbit now and I feel the lack of motion, the lack of steps. What I lack in motion I make up for in neuropathy in my hands. My fingers are sometimes numb at night, a result of overworking my tendons as I weed or cut branches for clients, and then overworking my tendons as I type and delete words on my laptop. I go to sleep, making sure to tuck my hands under the blanket so they don’t get cold and more numb, and when I wake up, I take Advil and do either activity all over again. It’s not a great situation but I promise myself to rest my hands on the weekends.
These chunks of time enable me to pound this mess of scenes into a sculpture that’s recognizable as a novel. I’m accomplishing what I set out to do last summer, tell the story of a botanist who propagates a rare tree, a tree so rare and special, mysterious forces rise up to try and defeat him. But the logic still needs to be worked out, the sentences still need smoothing. The series of events need to lead into each other naturally as if this whole thing were happening in the real world. In one giant, believable motion. It’s an enormous task and I consider myself a third of the way through. A third that’s tied to later scenes and chapters. I jump around inside the scenes every day. Oftentimes, I get ideas about characters and happenings completely unrelated to what I’m working on and I have to spend a half-hour diving into a part of the book I never intended to edit. Then time gets short and I get frustrated and I have to close the laptop. I stretch my hands and do the little, wiggling exercises the doctor gave me to do. I try to relax about not finishing all that I wanted to finish that day. I put on my shoes, go outside, and take as many steps as I can around the neighborhood.