Posted by Guest Blogger, Kate Flora
I had a plan for January. A bold and exciting plan. Once the tree was down, the bedding that had been hauled out to accommodate the extended family put away, and all the cute tree-shaped candlesticks, reindeer candlesticks, little metal sleighs to hold candles and all the red and green patterned runners and table toppers stowed in their boxes in the basement, I was going to write a book.
Maybe this doesn’t seem like such a bold plan for a writer. That’s what we do, after all—write books. Here’s why it was bold: to get enough time to fully immerse myself in writing again, I had to take a leave from the demands and distractions of my MFA program, putting the day when I add to string of letters after my name off indefinitely. It was bold because I’ve just come through what I think of as “the decade of death” during which I’ve dealt with the deaths my father, little sister and mother, and been left with an infinity of details and paperwork which distract me from my focus on writing.
It was bold, most of all, because despite the fact that I am obsessively disciplined, a control freak, and the type of writer who has her books planned—not outlined, but planned—well before she types the first word, this time I was going to sit down at my desk the first week in January, pull up a blank screen, type “Chapter One” and see what happened.
It hasn’t worked out like that. It may be that I am the victim of that rather comical phrase we all use: Life is what happens while we’ve made other plans. Life clearly has had other plans. First, because of the cold and snow, I got ice dam on my roof which sent a steady, gentle stream of water flowing through one of my kitchen lights. Roof leaks under snow are pretty much impossible to diagnose, so I’ve found myself making do with a beach towel, a large metal bowl, some sponges, and less light in the kitchen.
Then the porch roof started leaking. More towels and trip outside through thigh-high snow to try and flail away at the ice built up in the corner that was sending the water down the inside of the window. I mopped up and put out more towels, found a bucket to store the sodden towels, and went back to my desk until the upstairs toilet, exhausted from overwork and too much company, decided to pack it in. More flowing water, more towels. A new leak coming through a different light fixture in the kitchen.
As a writer, I’ve always said that the best thing about all these disasters is that if I can study myself under the stress of these assaults, it will let me more fully imagine my characters when they are under stress. Everything, I will tell a library audience, is grist for the mill. You want stress and claustrophobia, try having an MRI. You want pain and fear? There’s nothing like a root canal. You want to imagine trying to keep your focus in the midst of chaos, trying being under siege in your own house by random bodies of water.
The truth is that it takes more character than we get credit for to be a writer. You have to learn to ignore the omnipresent refrigerator which threatens the burgeoning thighs, the hungry family, piles of laundry or sodden towels, and people you’ve never met who want you to stop your own work to help them with theirs. You have to be willing to undertake on faith something that will likely take a year to complete, often with no one believing in it but yourself. Then you have to be willing to read this work produced with blood, sweat and tears, and ruthlessly tear it apart and rework it.
In the midst of the floods, still determined to start my New Year’s project, I found my way to the computer, checked my e-mail, and found a 350 page copy edited manuscript which had to be reviewed and back to the editor’s desk in a week. For days, my longed-for blank screen was filled with old words, words I’d already parted with, that had to be read carefully, word by word and line by line, because this was my very last chance to be sure that the book was right.
Yesterday, the nine pages of comments on that revision went back to the editor. Rereading the story and remembering how much I liked the Joe Burgess character I’d created in Playing God and was now meeting again in The Angel of Knowlton Park finally clarified which book I wanted to work on next. I did the laundry and turned on my computer. I got a black screen with an error message.
The computer wouldn’t start.
Kate Flora is the author of PLAYING GOD, a Joe Burgess mystery. For more info on Kate and her books, check out her website.