My wife took our 14-month-old daughter out of town for a long weekend, which means I had three and a half days to write, uninterrupted. That means no shaving. No partying. No bullshit; nothing but writing. Over the course of the half-week, I pounded out 5000-6000 words a day on a novel, wrote nearly a dozen reviews to clear out my backlog (and queried for a few more), set up a reading, finished a couple overdue articles, submitted a few things to journals, queried a press about a manuscript, ate exclusively sandwiches and fast food, and slept maybe five hours a night on the couch downstairs (partly because it’s near my computer, partly because I’m a little bit afraid our master bathroom upstairs is haunted).
Some people might consider this heaven. Let me say, first and foremost, I missed the hell out of my family. Somehow in the last few years since grad. school, I’ve become a big softy (I’m thinking of “softy” as the slang term for a prosthetic flaccid penis, more than the ice cream). My idea of myself as the driven genius willing to sacrifice anything, including family, to put my writing first didn’t stand a chance; it died a little bit the day my daughter opened her eyes up for the first time in my arms, a little bit more when I taught her to giggle every time she burped. Plus, all my black clothes have baby vomit stains on them. But the only thing worse than missing my family would’ve been looking them in the eyes when they got back, and knowing that I’d spent the time surfing fetish porn sites (as research, of course). So I worked.
I’m not trying to sound like I’m bragging. Honestly, I’d hoped to get more done. And, really, it wasn’t much fun. I’ve found that I get a bit weird in the midst of a marathon session like this. The lack of sleep and bathing don’t help. When I finally make a trip into town (for provisions – not because I’m scared to be alone any longer with the ghost in the bathroom that probably doesn’t exist, anyway, and besides, that was just a joke. Really. It was. Though I’m pretty sure there are two of them now) I’ve stepped out of beat with the world. But I’ll probably have to go back to my day job the next day, so that’s really not as romantic as it sounds. Not when you’re 30-something.
But, of course, how often do long weekends like this happen? Maybe a couple times a year. They are good opportunities to catch up on work, but one can’t build a career around them. The biggest challenge I’ve found in regards to writing since I got out of grad. school has been finding time to write. I just didn’t realize how good I had it going to three or four classes, working some pointless job, and thinking I was harried to produce work a couple times a week.
Strangely, I’ve found that I get a lot more accomplished when I’m stealing writing time out of a busy work schedule (“work” as in “the stuff I have to do so I can feed my family”). I might be able to grab an hour after work before I have to run home. Or during lunch. Or when I’m supposed to be doing something else (let’s be honest). I can rarely work at home during the week. I have friends who wake up at 4:30 to write. I wake up at 4:30 to feed the baby. And if she doesn’t wake me up, I sleep.
Being under the gun like this – knowing I might have an hour, maybe, to write – means I can’t be all loosey-goosey, playing on Facebook, updating my blog to complain about how I haven’t updated it because I have nothing to say. I set myself a goal (usually 1000 words a day) and I have to by-God meet it. In that hour. Or I feel like shit. Because that’s my window, and if I blow it, oh well. (Guess I’ll spend the rest of my life as a failure. Good job, slack-ass!) But I usually get it done. (Except when I don’t.) So, over the course of a work week, that’s 5000 words – the same as one marathon day. But I get to go home to my wife and daughter.
Similarly, it’s very difficult to work on weekends or during vacations. If we’re at home, I write while the baby naps. Except when I’m cleaning. Or actually spending time with my wife. If we’re somewhere else, I have been known to lock myself in a bathroom for an hour (which doesn’t tend to make me popular).
I tried National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) once. The premise, if you don’t know, is that you’re supposed to write a novel in a month. I wrote a novel. It took me more like two months, but there you go. Also, you’re not supposed to edit (because you don’t have time, I guess). Well, I edited. So it took twice as long, but I had something worthwhile. Really, I don’t have time to waste a month just crapping onto a page. Sorry, I don’t. (And it’s held in November, which is a very busy month for me.) Some people swear by it, others think it’s a joke. Anything that helps you produce probably can’t be all bad, but, again, if that’s the only time you’re writing, you’re probably not writing anything very good. I’m not saying you have to write every day. Carver said he wrote on weekends – borrowed a friend’s office and holed up for several hours – at a certain point in his career. Whatever it takes.
I’m actually writing this towards the end of my previously mentioned marathon session. It’s getting dark (which means the ghost is coming out) and I’ve finished all the work mentioned above. I feel good about it, but the house is quiet. My daughter’s asleep in another state. I think I’ll actually sleep upstairs tonight, which means I have to fold the laundry that’s been on the bed since my wife left to take our daughter to visit the in-laws. I feel good about what I’ve written, but I’ll feel good about folding those clothes, too. After that, maybe I’ll take a bath.
CL Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel Sunlight; three poetry collections, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe. Another, The Man Who Killed Himself in My Bathroom, is available at here. His story, “Leaving the Garden,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for story South‘s Million Writer’s Award. His story “The Scream” was selected as a Notable Story of 2011. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 5 times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.