Monday, September 14, 2009


For as long as I can remember (and I can remember long) my life has had a sort of pattern of going along at a busy and manageable pace for month after month until, suddenly, there's this critical mass moment where I look around my office and stuff is piled to the ceiling, you can't see an inch of space on my desk, and I'm staring at no less than ten deadlines. Being highly superstitious about just one thing-- and make fun of me all you want but I swear it's true-- I associate these over the top intense times with Mercury being in retrograde. Other believers in this astrological conspiracy theory often hold that for the roughly three weeks merc goes retro (which happens a few times each year), signing contracts is a very bad idea and that mechanical things are bound to break down. So are communications with others. Thus the theory is that it's best to try to wait these spells out as quietly as possible, don't make any huge decisions, and back up your hard drive.

While I do seem to suffer some of the negative fallout of M/R, invariably I find that this, too, is a time for endless opportunity to fill my inbox. So I'm sitting over here, desperately working to meet my book deadline (September 30th) which involves proofreading, fact checking, correcting, and formatting over 70,000 words worth of research and curating over 300 images procured from museums and private collectors around the world. I also need to caption these pics, by which I do not mean "here is a pretty quilt" but rather "here are the dimensions, material, year made, maker name, AND some interesting details." I am so worn out from it all, and yet I toil away at it.

Then Merc starts spinning backwards (an illusion, but a powerful one) and my email starts ringing off the hook with potential work offers. Last week, over the course of two days, I was offered seven writing assignments. That doesn't even happen when the economy is swinging in full high gear. I also have a 10,000 word assignment for a private client. And I'm waiting to hear back news from last week's job interview about a job that, when I think about it, I've been training for for over twenty years.

So what am I going to do about all this? Well first of all, I'm going to go get a poster board. When things pile up like this, there is no computer screen big enough to accommodate my To Do list. Instead, I get a good old-fashioned huge piece of paper and a sharpie, and I write it all down and set it on the floor next to my feet. Then, throughout the day, I refer to this list, monitor where I'm at progress-wise and, moments it is merited, make a very happy slash through a project completed.

During my interview last week, a question came up that I've heard before, one that makes me squirm a little. How fast do you write? When I'm bidding on a job to write marketing copy and/or overhaul websites for companies, I try to dodge this question, preferring to negotiate a flat fee over an hourly fee. Because, for whatever reason-- maybe thirty-seven years of practice-- I write very, very, very fast. I realized, as my answer was coming out of my mouth, that it was probably sounding like a bad cross between haughty, ridiculous, and impossible. I tried to explain that when I walk the dogs in the morning, I am writing in my head. I don't mean that in some romanticized way. I mean, I am forming and editing sentences, paragraphs, and entire essays. Then, on an ideal day, I come home, meditate for ten or fifteen minutes-- which seems to "set" what I've written in my head-- and then I approach the keyboard and pound out up to 2000 words of a fairly polished first draft inside of an hour. So you can see why I don't like to bill by the hour, since technically I might only actually be at the computer for an hour or two.

Once I billed for a gig and included the amount of time I'd thought about the piece before sitting down. That seemed fair to me. When the client balked and demanded a breakdown of my hour-by-hour process, I went ahead and sent a list that included several hours for mulling. Because frankly, mulling is when I do my best work.

Anyway, this post is not one of those fully formed, structurally sound pieces. I have yet to walk the dogs. I did not meditate. I'm just sitting here, procrastinating for a few minutes (something I rarely do though this book project has gotten me into that habit more than I'd like). I mostly want to say that I am psyched out of my head knowing that, a week from today, I will be on Monhegan Island, which is twelve miles off the coast of Maine. I'll be at a knitting and yoga retreat. I went on this last year, too. I get to spend five glorious days hiking, looking at autumn colors, avoiding yoga classes, and knitting my little fingers off in the company of other knit-addicts. My nickname at knit camp is the Termi-Knitter.

In preparation, I knitted the hat pictured above, modeled here for you by the dumbest/cutest dog on the planet, Rebound McCarthy. Rebound is fond of running into walls, licking the dirt off of Warren's shoes, and misjudging how high to jump when attempting to clear the arm of the futon couch, thus bonking herself in the head some more and further compromising her already limited intellectual capacity. But damn, she sure looks fine in that hat, doesn't she?

As will I when-- come on next week!-- I am in a place where the weather actually warrants the wearing of this chapeau.

You will not hear a peep from me then. Connectivity is limited. And to use one's cellphone, one must climb to a certain spot in the island's little cemetery, cross one's fingers in a certain combination, and face a particular direction just to get reception between the hours of 2 am and 3 am.

I can't wait.


Wendy Sue said...

I enjoy your personal posts very much - they are more sincere and give a wonderful insight into the world of a writer. I totally understand the feeling of "omg where do I start so that I can finish everything". It happens a lot - and that's when I whip out graph papers, hand written timelines, etc... I hope you and I both have a productive day. said...

Have a great time on Monhegan (I grew up there) and promoted the yoga/knitting retreat earlier in the summer. I hope it's a successful trip - ENJOY! said...

Have a great time on Monhegan (I grew up there) and promoted the yoga/knitting retreat earlier in the summer. I hope it's a successful trip - ENJOY!

PaMdora said...

I've gotta learn to write faster, but my fingers are starting to hurt. What do you do about that?

I was thinking, maybe bionic fingers so I could become a bionic blogger?

I do a lot of mulling too, but never thought to call it that. Stewing? Both are sort of food related, hmm, maybe a new series:)