By Scott D. Parker
Summer’s almost over and, with it, I sometimes suffer a feeling of loss, of things promised but not fulfilled. Do you get that way? It’s easy to remember back in our school days the eager anticipation of summer. Most of us left school in May and we didn’t have to go back till friggin’ September. Three whole months to do whatever we wanted. The list started growing in the last days of May and it seemed like we had limitless time to do everything.
I haven’t had a true summer in over fifteen years but I’ve never lost the Summer State of Mind. There are just certain things you should do only in the months of June, July, and August. Big giant popcorn films at the theaters belong in the summer. Same goes for blockbuster books like Jeff Abbott’s Trust Me or the adventures of Gabriel Hunt. There’s certain music (old Chicago, Springsteen, Hendrix, Alejandro Escovedo) that sounds better when blasted out of your car speakers as you fly down the highway, windows open, arm extended into the wind. Certain foods soak up the summer heat and taste better when it’s hot, especially when taken directly off the grill and into your mouth, juices dripping down your chin. There’s just a certain “summer” feeling that permeates in the air during the middle of the year that you don’t get at any other time. It’s tangible and, yet, ephemeral. You feel where I’m coming from?
Good. Because for the longest time, I considered writing to be like that: ephemeral, atmospheric, mystical, muse-driven, zen-like, all touchy-feely. I easily envisioned myself *having* written stories, a overflowing portfolio of pastiches, short stories, and always, a novel in progress.
Ah, the ease of the summer state of mind. Ah, the ease of calling yourself a writer. Then the reality: I ain’t got a friggin’ portfolio. And I realized why a few weeks ago: I don’t have the writing habit. I did, once, when I wrote my first novel and then on into my second. I had a clear plan, well-focused, a goal on the horizon.
This summer, I didn’t. I achieved none of the writing goals I set for myself. These past three weeks, as my frustration level rose, I started questioning myself. I started analyzing my life, my habits, my focus. I realized that I have some bad habits that impede my writing life. I’ve got an entire list of things that are obstacles to my writing life and I’ll write about them in future columns here and on my crime blog.
One idea that’s so fundamental and so simple in its vision that I never saw it is this: Writing is a Muscle. All muscles have to be exercised or they will atrophy. I have allowed my writing (not my imagination for I’ve been writing stories in my head the entire time) to atrophy. And there’s only one way to tone the muscles: exercise.
Like a lot of people, I rarely exercise. I sit on my ass all day in front of a computer then, at home, I watch TV, movies, or read. I’ll also log on at night as well. I’m lazy. My exercising muscles atrophied. One night, when our local pool was closed, I made a decision: I’ll start running. I did and I ran two miles. Next night, two more. That was three weeks ago. I haven’t run every day but I’ve run regularly. I’ve already achieved that wonderful internal feeling of *missing* the run on the days off.
Now I’m applying that mentality to my writing. I’ve started writing again (listen to me: I sound like I’m in an AA meeting) and I’ve tied it to my running. I'll expound more on the how at another time. Suffice it to say, I've started to exercise the body muscles and the writing muscles. Together, they’ll take me where I want to go: published and healthy enough for that book tour.
Are there things you tie your writing habit to in order to keep you moving the cursor forward? How do you get back on the writing wagon when you’ve fallen off?