Lea Wait, here, posting this blog from “Writers’ Jail.” That’s what my friend and fellow author Barbara Ross calls it when your manuscript deadline is fast approaching, and you’re behind schedule. Their schedule, your schedule … it doesn’t matter how you figure it. You know it when it happens. The only sane response is to lock yourself away, cancel all social engagements, hand your spouse (if you have one) the shopping list, and close your study door. (Oh — and when you’re in there? Turn off the internet and write. Don’t forget that part.)
So … I’m in writers’ jail, with a manuscript due April 1, a deadline that has been extended at least four times because of my cancer. I’m determined to make sure this time I don’t have to ask for another extension. April 1 might sound like I have oodles of time left … except for the chemo treatments and medical tests and exhaustion. And the 100 pages, more or less, I still have to write on my first draft. Not to speak of editing.
But what was I doing this morning? Polishing brass. (An admission: I have a lot of brass and copper in my house. I had quite a bit of silver, too, but my daughters have taken a lot of that in anticipation of the future.) And that’s all right. I still have my brass and copper. I inherited some, I was given some, I brought some home from Calcutta, some goes with my 1774 fireplace … you can guess the rest.
Despite those who speak of “patina” as a justification to ignore dirt, grime, and tarnish, I firmly believe copper, brass and silver needs to be polished at least every six months. Brass and copper can go twelve months if it’s a really rough year, but they all need loving care or … bad things will happen.
So, because I am guilty of setting quarterly goals, I include polishing on my “to do” list every other quarter. But life has interfered. I polished a lot in the couple of months between my husband’s death last April, and my diagnosis in June. But since then I’ve had other priorities.
Very little has been polished since last May. The living room with the brass fireplace set, including fire dogs, tools, screen and fender tends to be the last room on my list, but I have brass and copper in almost every room of my house.
Now, when I’m at this panicked point in a manuscript I usually aim at writing at least ten pages a day. Sometimes I can do more. Sometimes less. But ten pages is a heavy writing day.
Even when I’m in the depths of those pages, though, I need to take breaks. Eye breaks (look out the window! Don’t you wish you were there, outside?) Stretching breaks (even ergonomic keyboards don’t help with ten pages. Not to speak of when you have a cat on your lap.) Tea breaks. (Self-explanatory.) Sometimes, in desperation, chocolate breaks.
And polishing breaks.
Polishing a brass bowl or light fixture or 18th century saucepan feels good. Unlike that unending manuscript, I can see what I’ve accomplished. The house looks cleaner and brighter, which makes me feel as though I’m still a person. The physical polishing is a different motion from that of keyboarding, and (especially if done for only 15-25 minutes) can, if not totally relieve stress, at least get different back and neck muscles involved.
And, perhaps best of all … polishing doesn’t require a lot of thinking. So when a plot is dead-ended or a character is becoming boring or finding a new twist seems impossible … polishing a little brass or copper or silver can let me focus on those issues from a distance. Plus, for the part of me that my husband called “the Puritan Lea,” I’m not wasting time. See? I just polished three cloisonné bowls.
And when it’s time to go back to my study, I’ll be ready: this time, to polish my manuscript. Let it shine!