This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.
My parents went out of town for a week. And since I’m just a hop, skip, and a jump away, I was put in charge of their two furry children: Jasper and Maizie.
Now, I love these dogs. I do. Especially Maizie. Her and I share a special bond. The kind where we genuinely have full conversations with each other, as I translate her strewn together moans and groans of various frequencies to understand just how annoyed she was by her brother that day. I could spend every day with her and be quite content. It’s Jasper, however, that’s the nuisance.
Jasper’s a bit of a pandemic baby. He hasn’t known my mother to leave long for work, and he expects all attention on him all the time because, well, for at least a year, that’s the way things were. He was exciting and new, a puppy eager to love on us as long as we returned the favor. And we did, do. His half-eaten toys litter the family room and when he gets in the mood to play, all other work or life must cease to exist until his needs are worn out. It’s exhausting.
By the end of the week — even by the end of day two — I’m fed up with them. Annoyed by their presence and constant reminder of their utter reliance on me to live. To be okay. To function. It’s my responsibility to give them water, feed them the right amount of food, give them just enough treats so their tummies don’t hurt and yet good behavior is recognized, to make sure they don’t use the house as their personal restroom, to give them plenty of pats and hugs and belly rubs and get them to bed on time. Because yeah, they have a bedtime thanks to my mother’s strict own.
So naturally, it’s made me think about my manuscript. The one I’ve barely entered since the school semester started, except to add in a little bit here and there, checking off one comment box by one comment box at an excruciating snail pace. And I know it’s excruciating; that’s the thing. Yet, it’s still necessary work, much like letting Jasper out when he needs to go, only to race him around the backyard until I can wrangle him back inside. The necessary jobs aren’t often the most enjoyable, or fun.
My manuscript is also entirely dependent on me in order to go anywhere. I think part of me still secretly hopes for the mystical “author-agent” meet-cute where I don’t have to do the actual work, and feel the overwhelming rejection, of querying myself, and instead just one morning find an email from an agent in my mailbox saying they want to represent me. That would be great if it happens, but it’s certainly not likely to.
And if I want anything to change, if I want the writing to get better, that’s reliant on me as well.
Which means I have to do the work. I have to feed the dogs breakfast, take them out, walk them around the neighborhood, give them treats, fill their water bowls, deal with their personalities and needs, make sure they feel loved and protected and safe, be patient when they want me to throw the ball for fifteen minutes when I’m supposed to be preparing a lesson for tomorrow. I have to open my manuscript, read it over and over and over again, make small miniscule changes, make big changes, move around entire paragraphs to other sections of the text, figure out what men are doing in my story if they only exist sometimes but very rarely, and, of course, get the guts to actually send it out there.
And yet, if you do the same thing every day for a week, or if you put that work in day after day, of course you’re going to begin to resent the project. (That I resent my inability to actually work on it or take the next step even though some would say I’m ready to is not the point right now.)
The analogy I’m trying to make is this: I love my dogs when I see them on special occasions — it’s more exciting for the three of us — than when I have to deal with them and take care of them every single day, 24/7. Then I begin to wonder if I even like them all that much. I think my relationship to my memoir at this moment (but hopefully not always) is like that.
One of my colleagues was texting me about how she needs to get back into writing poetry. But that she has no idea where to even start. Since I’m sort of an expert on not writing since coining this column I told her, “It’s not accessible to shoot for every day. But at least once a week try and write something, even if it’s not the best.” I reminded her about the fact that she was a single mother to a child, she was in the process of getting her doctorate while working full-time, so also might not be in the season to write. In that case, “just find time to read something creative and inspiring that isn’t required for your job or school. That counts, too.”
A break here and there is necessary, expectant. However, it’s important for me to remember that sometimes you have to do the work. Especially if the work only transforms, advances, or moves because of me.