Monday, May 30, 2011
My perfect writing day
Summer is also the time of year when I became a writer. I graduated from Auburn University in March and took a job as a copyeditor for the newspaper in Alabama's capital, The Montgomery Advertiser. I was still living in Auburn, so this was my schedule. Around 1:30 p.m. I would drive an hour to work, which started at 3 (because most of the work for morning papers gets done the night before, so the news will be as current as possible). I would work until midnight and drive an hour back home--unless, of course, Iraq decided to invade Kuwait, in which case I had to stay until 3 a.m. to copyedit endless new versions of the story.
I got paid in black-eyed peas, or might as well have. This was a seriously low-paying job for a college graduate, even at the entry level. But I was ecstatic to have a job using my English major and working with words. And the most wonderful thing of all about this job was the lunch hour.
"Lunch" hour, that is, because I took it from 4 to 5 p.m. I could not go home, obviously, and there weren't many restaurants around that were open at that time of day. I did not want to spend it in the break room because then I would actually have to talk to people and be sociable and *shudder* make friends, which is not something I am good at. So I brought a peanut butter sandwich, a banana, and a Diet Coke from home, and I sat outside in the oppressively hot summer afternoon--usually on the steps of the state capital building or one of the other government buildings near the newspaper office--and I finished writing the novel I had started in the creative writing class I took my last quarter in college.
The next morning, I would get up, go to my typewriter (I did not have a computer), and type what I had handwritten the day before. Maybe I would write a few pages more. But the bulk of my writing happened during that magical hour when I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. An hour a day wasn't much, but it was consistent, and one sweltering afternoon in July while sitting outside the Alabama Forestry Commission building, I wrote "The End" at the bottom of a page. Then I turned the page and started writing my second novel.
At the time, I would not have called that a perfect writing day. I had no idea whether my writing was any good or whether I would ever be published. I did not feel very professional getting paid in black-eyed peas, I lived in a shack, and I had a bad boyfriend. I had some extremely bad decisions ahead of me, and fifteen years of rejections before I would finally sell novel number 10.
But as Rosemary said so much more entertainingly, being published brings with it a million distractions--ironically, a million more reasons not to write than I ever had before I was published--especially when I have a novel coming out in July. So this summer, with two new books due, I'm trying hard to reach inside and call up 20-year-old Jennifer, who had no good reason to write doggedly every single day, and did it anyway.