Sometimes it's good to play hooky. I don't mean from work or school - heaven forfend - but from doing the next task on the list. In this case, this column. I've been staring at a blank screen for a few minutes now, waiting for the ever-mischievous muse to tap me on the head with his/her wand and off I'll go, pounding out six or seven hundred words of delightful, insightful prose. Ha.
I've let my gaze fall on the pile of today's New York Times. The Styles section touches on restrictions on the numbers of high-end designer hand bags one is allowed to buy, another on collections of bridesmaids dresses by those with too many girlfriends, with an immediate reference to a movie coming out which vamps on that very topic. I saw the trailer for it last night when we went to see....
Stop. Get back to work. You have a deadline.
But my mind and my limited attention are elsewhere. It's not that I don't love TLW; I do. I love the instant gratification of feedback from friends and near strangers. And it's not just that I also have a book project vying for my attention like the two dogs currently in residence, anxious for their morning run around Tradewinds. Whining, pacing, and looking up at me with those pathetic, deprived brown eyes. The dogs, not the nascent book project. I'm highly distractable when I feel the urge to duck my responsibilities. The birds on my feeder offer up endless hours of mindless entertainment. Is that a northern flicker? Do I want another cup of coffee? Where's my nail file?
Having a column is a bit like having an on-going homework assignment. Not a difficult assignment, not math homework, but an obligation that requires me to put in some time and pay attention and tap into a creative juice that seems a bit dry right now. I keep checking word count and keep coming up short. Sentences do not flow, thoughts are truncated and stuttering.
I really should check my bank balance. Pay some bills.
The stern finger of responsibility points to the keyboard: get back to work.
Am I up to 500 words yet?
I admire the columnists who appear weekly, or even daily, in some newspapers. How do they do it? How do they come up with fresh topics for every column? Many of my brethren in the novel writing business moonlight as columnists. Chris Bojahlian, author of such acclaimed novels as "Buffalo Soldier" and "Midwives," writes a column for the Burlington Free Press called Idyll Banter. Dave Barry, known probably more for his humor columns than his humorous novels, is another. There's an obligation - new material, and it has to be funny too. At least I can wax profound if I want to.
I really need to water those plants.
Inspiration comes in sizes large, medium, and small. It comes from a remark, a joke, an observation which then lends itself to full-blown exposition. It comes like a two-by-four between the eyes. Whoa, there's a topic. It slips in between sentences on another page. And, sometimes, it teases, touching the mind in a half-formed way, never becoming a whole thought...sorry, got to let the cat in.
What was I saying? Oh, yeah, sometimes it's hard to put a whole sentence together because the force field preventing distractions is down.
So, if once in a while I submit a throwaway column like this one, don't judge me too harshly. I'll do better next month. Okay! Up to 600 words. Assignment complete.
Susan Wilson is a freelance writer and novelist who lives in Oak Bluffs. Visit her web site at susanwilsonwrites.com.