My perfect writing day

This time of year inspires me to write for a couple of reasons. Summer is the setting for my most successful book to date, The Boys Next Door (which is now reprinted in the same volume with its sequel, Endless Summer). In fact, the action of the book started last Friday. That book turned out exactly the way I wanted, and I still smile thinking about it.

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.


  1. Great story, Jenn! I admire 20 year-old Jennifer greatly. She would have been great friends with 21 year old Stephanie. May this summer be a very productive one for you!

  2. Great story. 20 year old Jennifer kicked butt, that's for sure. But our older selves get pulled in so many directions. I imagine that getting in touch with younger-Jennifer is really about getting in touch with the pure LOVE of writing...

  3. 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.

    This. So very much this. (Except substitute Barb for Jennifer, natch.) But yeah, it's that trying to recapture the writing even, maybe especially, when you don't have a reason to write, magic. I've gone back and looked at some of my early work and while in many ways, I'm a better writer now, there's a certain freedom and joy inherent in those words that I would really love to recapture.


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