Memo from revision-land

Virgina Woolf famously wrote that to write fiction, a woman needed a room of one’s own.

This summer, I’ve updated that line for the twenty-first century. To write fiction, a woman needs a user profile of her own.

Back in June, when my day job went on summer hiatus, I embarked on the goal of polishing my first-draft manuscript, written during NaNoWriMo last year, into second-draft stage by Labor Day. I’d made child care arrangements for my kids that were supposed to afford me 10-12 hours a week of uninterrupted writing time. My room–a corner of our basement TV room/play room – violated Virginia’s recommendation, but with the kids elsewhere, I thought it would do. The 11 weeks of summer shimmered like an oasis.

Then I realized that, right out of the gate, the 11 weeks drop to nine because day camp for one child didn’t start til the second week of summer and ends a week before school starts. Then the second week of summer, my day camper came down with pneumonia. My writing window shrank to eight weeks. As soon as he was healthy, the daycare provider for my younger child was struck by a minor injury that put her out of commission for a week. Down to seven.

Finally, mid-July already, everyone was healthy, everything’s up and running –and our one-week vacation arrived. The shimmering oasis was rapidly becoming a mirage, with almost half my writing time gobbled up by sickness and scheduling changes, all out of my control. My best-laid plans had gone awry and I felt cheated and discouraged.

Fortunately, I’ve also been reading Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur this summer. This line jumped out: “The key to writing is the willingness to grind, polish and perfect your manuscript under lousy circumstances.” Cue Plan B.

First I modified my goal. The uninterrupted hours simply were not occurring. So when we

Accountability plus a lucky charm - my "Z" coffee mug.

Accountability plus a lucky charm – my “Z” coffee mug.

returned from our vacation, I made my goal to write 250 words per day, or to spend 90 minutes editing. I knew I could fit that in before the kids woke up or after bedtime, and deliberately set the bar low, to insure I could build success. To insure accountability, I recruited a goal partner, who I stay in touch with by daily e-mails. I also keep a running “writing day” tally on our dining room white board. My daughter’s become another accountability accomplice, updating the figure for me.

I also changed my work space. I couldn’t contrive a room of my own, but I got the next best thing: a user profile my husband created for me on his laptop. When I log in, I can access all my cloud-saved documents like I was working on my own desktop. There is an Internet connection, but it doesn’t have my bookmarked websites and saved passwords for social media sites.

Moreover, it’s upstairs, out of the kid flow and away from the to-do lists and bills and other distractions that bog down my basement office space. And voila, my word counts and time goals started flowing past the mandatory minimums I established.

So here in revision-land, I can report Virginia was right. With a footnote that head space is as important as work space. Thomas Edison said that many people miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work. The Muse doesn’t come knocking on your door; or at least not on mine. I have to create the conditions and then go more than halfway to meet her. But with three weeks of summer left, I’m headed toward a happy ending. 

– The letter V brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.


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