I don’t go out a whole lot. But three friends in one of my writers’ groups all have birthdays in the first half of November. So we decided to have a non-writing brunch yesterday at a locally owned restaurant.
Here’s a fun thing (for book lovers anyway) that will happen if you eat at Cafe Berlin in Columbia, Missouri. Instead of bringing your bill in one of those vinyl folder things, the waiter will tuck it into a used book. I must look like a fun person or a cowgirl, because this was the title presented to me.
Of course, the danger to the restaurant staff in presenting books to avid readers is that we spend time reading before paying our bills. The six women at my table had a few hoots from this before we left.
It’s a quick read, full of wise, pithy bits of advice. “Avoid becoming emotional over a jackass.” “Convincing yourself that a bad idea is a good idea is a bad idea.” You get the idea.
On a final note, how great is the name Gladiola Montana?
In my last post I made a brief recommendation for the book “Writing Alone and With Others” by Pat Schneider. I want to add a bit more about it.
I mentioned the word “realistic” when I talked about the advice Schneider gives; to me that’s what makes this book so valuable. Perhaps the book speaks to me because the author has faced the same struggle I have of trying to find writing time while caring for children. She helped me see in a concrete way that finding time to write is a matter of priorities. It sounds obvious, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I took a hard look at the choices I make.
An anecdote from Schneider’s own life sticks with me. She shares the moment she had her own epiphany. She was stressed about her lack of opportunities for writing, and at the same time she was trying to piece a quilt. Then she had one of those vaunted moments of clarity when she decided she could make the quilt or she could write, but she didn’t have time to do both. She put away the quilt. This is what I mean by realistic. She doesn’t feed aspiring writers false promises, telling us we can do it all – be a devoted parent, a fabulous chef, pursue every other art and craft that catches our interest and still write. You do have to choose between writing and other activities.
Schneider gives equal respect to people who would choose the quilt over the writing; she only points out that you need to be clear with yourself what you are choosing and why. This helps me make my peace with not writing at times, too. Some things are a higher priority for me. Daughter’s choir concert? No brainer. Sleep? I may choose to write instead. Knitting, as all of my friends seem to do these days? No thanks, I’d rather spend my time writing than learning to knit.
There’s so much more to the book: lots of tips on writing groups, critiquing in a helpful rather than hurtful way, writing prompts, encouragement to explore what works for you in your life, how to deal with naysayers. But for me, the lesson on priorities made the most difference.
Writing is a solitary activity. I find I have to make an effort to keep it from being an isolating activity. I write more and better when I keep in regular contact with other writers. For one thing, if I’m expected to bring a piece of writing to share, I have to get my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. For another, I’m encouraged by speaking with people who get it, people who will celebrate with me if I say I managed to find time for writing this week, rather than people who will look with at my messy house with an arched eyebrow upon receiving such information.
Even if I’m only meeting with other writers for an hour in which we hardly speak, but rather sit with our individual laptops and spiral notebooks, I notice the boost. When I’m home alone,using time I’ve carved out that’s supposed to be dedicated to writing and nothing else, it’s so easy to slack. It’s so easy to tell myself I’ll sit at the computer after I get the next load of laundry in the washer, or after I do one of any of the other thousand chores staring me in the face, or after I read my email, then check a couple of web sites. But when I meet with other writers, I feel accountable for getting the words on the page. I’ll get caught if I cheat.
One of the best books I’ve read that addresses both aspects of the writing life, the solitary and the social, is Pat Schneider’s “Writing Alone and With Others.” She gives excellent and realistic advice about making the most positive use of both situations.