Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Blood Lie by Shirley Vernick: When I'm Not Writing

Writing can be a consuming, even obsessive activity. So what do I do when I’m not writing? If you’d asked me five years ago, I’d have said: I feel guilty, of course! Which isn’t very productive. In fact, it’s counterproductive. The guilt demon pilfers both R’s from your R&R time, making you less fruitful when you do get back to your desk, which only compounds the guilt. Utterly crazy-making. But darned hard to fight.

I’d probably still be flailing around that ugly spiral if I hadn’t joined a writing group whose leader imparted some sanity-saving counsel. “As long as you’re thinking about your writing project,” she said, “you’re working on it. And you’re always thinking about it, on some level.”

Those were the most freeing words I’d ever heard. As soon as I got home that night, I wrote down my version of the affirmation and taped it to my bathroom mirror: You are writing even when you’re not writing. I read it out loud every morning.

Okay, so it wasn’t a magic spell – I needed to practice what I chanted. But I’m happy to report that nowadays I genuinely enjoy my non-writing time (well, as long as I’m not in the dentist’s chair, the gasoline line, or the laundry room).

I spend most of my non-writing hours doing things with or for my family – husband Alan, teenagers Annie and Zoe, and dogs Twinkles and Jiffy. Zoe is a vegetarian, while Annie likes her meat, so you’ll often find me preparing two suppers in an evening (Alan and I will eat anything). My signature dishes are white lasagna, chicken chili, and spicy baked apples. I stink at brownies, but I keep trying.

Did I mention that I love animals? In addition to the resident pooches, I foster homeless kitten litters for my local Humane Society. I’ve had up to 13 felines at once, and several pregnant cats have given birth in my bathroom. Our house is like a National Geographic documentary (although admittedly the pet rats and crayfish in years past weren’t my favorites).

On a fairly regular basis, I challenge myself to venture outside my comfort zone. You won’t find me swimming with sharks or planking on a highway, but, for instance, I recently became a “certified Segway glider.” On my maiden glide, a friend and I tooled around Boston Harbor. About halfway through, we got a little cocky and decided to slalom around a line of traffic posts. Between the two of us, we ended up with a broken toe, a sprained wrist, and more black and blue than van Gogh could paint a starry night with.

I love reading. Fiction, nonfiction, books, magazines, you name it. When it comes to fiction, I’m pretty much a genre slut, although right now I’m mostly into speculative fiction. Stories involving alternative histories, future-set dramas, and weird technology are a thought-provoking blast.

All right, before I close I need to come clean. Sometimes I still feel a twinge of guilt when I’m not writing. That gremlin may be buried, but it’s still there, waiting for any opportunity to pounce on my consciousness.
How do I escape the vortex of regret? I simply remind myself that wiping out on a Segway is going to make a great scene in a story. That someday, one of my characters will be making brownies while she has that pivotal conversation. That my extracurricular activities are feeding my imagination and making space for ideas to percolate. So I really am writing even when I’m not writing.

Thanks Shirley for writing this up!!

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