The (W)Rites of Spring

Kate Flora here, starting a conversation about how we crime writers deal with spring. For me, after a kind of “writing hibernation” in the winter, when I can spend hours at my desk, I emerge as the weather warms wanting to rush outside into the garden, and do my writing after dark. But a writer’s life is not like that–after dark I’m teaching and visiting libraries and going to meetings, and so I’m making deals with myself to balance writing chores and outside chores.

On the weekend, I cleared off the perennial beds, dug stubborn grass out of my daylilies, and fertilized the shrubs, then rushed inside and wrote a blog post. Another bed awaits, this one may need to be dug out and replanted. There is no rain, and so I may have to water, but first there’s the 15 mile trip to the store for a new hose. Everyone is crying out for fertilizer, there’s a bed that’s growing moss and really needs lime. The hostas need to be divided. The shrubs should have been pruned a month ago. Meanwhile, my character needs me to consult a psychiatrist to help her with a work-related problem, and I’m desperate for a quiet week to sort out the approach to a new book. Another week to write a detailed book proposal. A month to revise a book.  A day to put those dark, weary woolens away and get out spring clothes. I’ve got to process my notes from the Donald Maass seminar on how to write the breakout novel that Lea, Vicki, and I attended last Saturday.

I’ve started using my little green apple kitchen timer to help me shift from task to task and wondering how to fit more hours in the day. A spring tonic? Figure out how to sleep less? How do you other writers cope?

Paul Doiron: T.S. Eliot knew what he meant when he called April “the cruelest month.” Spring is the time of year when I realize how I could have been writing through the Maine winter, and instead I suddenly have book deadlines looming that necessitate me chaining myself to my desk until autumn. I have missed the last two springs and summers (by which I mean weekends), either rewriting or promoting novels. The glamorous life indeed!

Kaitlyn Dunnett: In my case it helps that I have no interest in growing things in the garden and will always leave spring cleaning as late as possible. I’m not sure I ever did get around to it last year. The temptation for me is to spend my time out on the screen porch in the fresh air. I can justify it a little more now that I have the iPad. And I can always revise by hand and rough out scenes on a lined tablet. But some things, posting here for example, require sitting at my pc. The keyboard on the iPad is big enough (turned sideways) for me to touch type, but my arthritic fingers make a lot of mistakes and they are far easier to correct with a regular keyboard. I hate hate hate to post something and then discover that there’s a typo in it. I’m a writer for goodness sake! I’m supposed to catch stuff like that. Anyway, returning to spring temptations . . . not so many. It doesn’t take much longer to hang a load of laundry on the line by the side of the house than it does to hang it over the drying rack in the guest room/library/junk room upstairs (no clothes dryer; no dishwasher either—never saw the point in eitherl). I’ll be posting on Wednesday about my biggest spring ritual—the annual trek to Malice Domestic. For now, I’m going to print this. Then I’m going to take the printout out onto the screen porch to proofread. It may be awhile before I come back inside.

Barb: Kaitlyn–my husband has a blue tooth keyboard for his iPad that he loves. E-mail me for detes…

Gerry Boyle: I can write or finish varnishing brightwork on the boat, paint bottom of dinghy, put snow boards (to keep snow off foundation on north and west side) back in loft of barn, get bicycles ready for the road, pore through bike catalogues for possible new bike, pore through Hamilton Marine catalogue for essential boat equipment, watch Red Sox stumble into their season, watch Celtics battle through end of their season, watch Bruins win second consecutive Stanley Cup, play tennis, get Adirondack chairs out of barn, start the lawn mower and trimmers, put snowblower away, go for birding walk when warblers start to come through, go birding pre-warblers, listen to peepers on marsh, watch muskrat gather nesting stuff though babies must be pretty big by now, hope to get a look at beavers at their house, count trees beavers have felled, do some target shooting, burn brush pile (if it ever rains), finish raking left over from fall, start painting high end of south side of barn that didn’t get done last fall, go for bike rides, hang out in pubs (preferably in Dublin, Ireland), stop in Belfast (Maine) at Three Tides to check on latest ales, chat with friends who have come out of hibernation, listen to spring bird calls, do some more shooting, feel good about Red Sox, feel bad about Red Sox, use Christmas gift certificates for Portland restaurants, buy that new bike, mow lawn sooner than expected, paint deck of front porch, watch goldfinches turn yellow. And still feel good when I sit down to the writing desk.

Kate Flora: Exhausted and jealous, Gerry, just reading through that list. It reminds me I must fertilize roses, fill herb pot, scrub mildew off the back deck, dig out grass from between patio stones, take a walk, sit on the porch and read while the breeze blows through, spray paint all the metal outdoor furniture, and write a book.

Lea Wait: Love the list, Gerry! I’ll admit I gave up on my garden dreams years ago, when I became a writer. I have a (very) small herb garden. Every year I vow to take better care of it, and every year I fail, some years more miserably than others. The proof is the chives that this year have already taken over 85% of their assigned space, even crowding out the mint, which I’d always thought was unstoppable. My main goal outside is to prune bushes that insist on spreading to cover windows and doorways. Last year I managed to cut through the cord of my electric chain saw (I know, but I’m still alive) so I need to buy a new one. (An electric chain saw for Mothers’ Day would be nice, if any of my children are reading this.)Hedge clippers will only go so far. This year, with a book deadline, and Bob trying to get a few more paintings finished before set-up time at the gallery where he shows (they open May 15,) so far we’ve only managed to get two chairs out to our porch so far. I have done some proofing there. The storm windows in my study are gone, but my outside activities are basically limited to lingering walks to the mailbox every day. Like Paul, I feel as though I missed several seasons last year. And the year before. When we have company I get to enjoy Maine in the summer – with them. When there’s no company, Maine in the summer means open windows, a glass of wine on the porch in the early evening if the temperature is right – and pruning when I have an extra hour. The problem with working at home is that the work never goes away. Spring and summer are right outside the window, tempting you …. you have to be tough to live in Maine.

Sarah: Every year around this time my friend Nancy returns from her winter travels (and this year some travails, as well). We always go for a welcome-home lunch to the New Friendly Restaurant in nearby Perry, and we always have the same things: haddock sandwiches, cole slaw, and french fries dipped in blue cheese dressing. I drink coffee, she has half-decaf. We talk non-stop, as we have been doing for the past sixteen years, now, and after lunch we take a drive out the Shore Road, then come back to the restaurant parking lot and head out on our separate errands just as if nothing special had just happened. Kind of a laid-back spring ritual, I guess, but it works for us.

I like the one about moving the writing work out onto the screen porch, too, though. Along with the first fish sandwich of spring, it’s the kind of ritual I can get on board with.

Barb Ross: Oy. As an over-achiever trapped in a procrastinator’s body, I can piddle away time pretty much at will. But this spring has been the worst.  This weekend I committed to doing a writing challenge with my friends at How Many Pages Did You Write Today? Then last night an old friend was in town–one night only! The kind of friend where you can pick up conversations after years and it’s like no time has gone by. So my husband and I had to see her, and I was forced, forced I tell you, to drink way too much sangria at the tapas place where we met.  And today, my husband and I went to see our son and daughter-in-law’s new house, first one they’ve owned, bought while we were in London. It was a gorgeous day–a bonus because it was supposed to rain– and we had lunch at an old inn overlooking the river, unpacked a few boxes, and then went out for ice cream. But come Monday, I swear…

Jim Hayman: Sit in my chair on the deck, listen to the ocean and feel the warmth of the sun on my face and try to think about  nothing at all except making sure there’s enough sunflower seeds in the bird feeders so the visitors don’t go hungry.



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2 Responses to The (W)Rites of Spring

  1. Tina B says:

    Even though my only writing is for my book review blog, I often have the same dilemma you all spoke of – but my choices are between reading and chores. Thank goodness for audio books – they can fill the gap during some things like cleaning out closets, airing out musty rooms,etc, but they sure don’t cut it while the vacuum or motorized garden gadgets are buzzing! I can totally agree with Barbara when she says: “As an over-achiever trapped in a procrastinator’s body, I can piddle away time pretty much at will. I’m an expert!

  2. LeeR says:

    Late comment on this!

    I can very much relate to Kate Flora. Luckily the gardening stuff is al-most done… 🙂

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