I started my writing career when our children left home and my husband insisted they weren’t coming back unless they needed money. Previously, I wanted to be a movie star, but when the mirror confirmed that my theatrical-clock had not only stopped ticking, it was at the cemetery, I thought writing might be a better choice. While at the dentist waiting on a root canal—never make career decisions while waiting on a man with a knitting needle who intends to stab you in the mouth with it—I picked up a tattered paperback entitled The Writer's Little Instruction Book.
Spooky! I was merely contemplating the idea of becoming a N.Y. Times bestselling author and the perfect manual appeared. Surely God, his angels, and all the saints were trying to tell me something, right? I didn’t consider that maybe the devil and his deceivers were having a good laugh. The book listed 365 (give or take) secrets for writing and getting published. Perfect! It was an omen. In 365 days I’d be on the bestsellers list. I simply needed to master one little ol’ secret a day. The first one I came across was the key to a successful story. It was threefold: 1. Get your protagonist up a tree. 2. Put a tiger under the tree. 3. Get your protagonist out of the tree.
Elementary! I was on my way and about to discover secret #2, when the receptionist called my name. It was time for my root canal. Piece of cake—I was on a mission to greatness. Not even that flashing knitting needle held high in Dr.I-Forget-his-name’s hand would stop me now. Four injections (the first three didn’t take), and two hours later I drove home not the least bit interested in the N. Y. Times, its bestsellers list, or who was on it.
Tomorrow, I’d begin the great American novel, the minute my feet hit the floor, the instant my brain met the coffee. However—don’t you hate that word?—I forgot about one character defect I’ve struggled with most of my life: I’m a world class procrastinator. If they ever give out Pulitzer’s on the subject, I’ll be a major contender. Not to say I don’t get things done. I do. But I tend to do them one minute before time’s up.
Procrastination is not a good attribute for an author. All the best books on writing (there are slews of good ones; here are my favorites: Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Berg, Julie Cameron, Stephen King—and Walter Mosely's brand new contribution), state clearly that writers are to place themselves before the computer (or notepad, or typewriter) at precisely the same time each day for precisely the same amount of pre-determined hours each day (weekends and holiday included), in order to not only hone one’s craft, but to complete the manuscript at hand. Ahhh. . .that might be a problem.
The moment I get out of bed, I tend to explore the world around me and assess the damages, making a list as I go. Stupid little things like, I forgot to do the laundry, again and there’s no clean underwear, the milk’s sour, there’s nothing to eat but cat food, the garbage hasn’t been dragged to the curb in a month, and the refrigerator filter hasn’t been changed since we invaded Iraq. The list grows as I walk from room to room. Are those fur balls under the dining room table really having grandchildren? Can’t be, last week they were barely parents. I climb under to investigate. I meander from room to room, procrastination taking over the morning. I get out the phone book. Surely there’s an organization that can assist me. There has to be. I’m on the verge of being a bestselling author! I need recovery.
The yellow page lists Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Cheaters Anonymous, Kleptomaniacs Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous. There are groups for Obsessive Compulsion Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Bi-Polar Disorder, but absolutely no procrastinators support group. There must be an organization meeting somewhere. Actually a helpline would be my choice. A number I could call the moment I find no underwear I’m willing to wear or encounter a chore I’m tempted to do—featuring a commanding voice like my mothers that will instruct me to immediately march over to my computer and bolt myself to the chair for a minimum of three hours, and call her in the morning.
I look through the entire collection of yellow pages I’ve amassed, as well as the local newspaper’s classified ads and find nothing to assist me. Obviously, I’m one of a mere handful of major procrastinators in existence. There are simply not enough of us to require a network of supporters. Yikes! I’m on my own. I search the room for answers and spot my computer. It’s waiting, perfectly able to do my bidding. And I only have 364 more secrets to master. Glory be—I’m ready to discover them!
I dash to the computer, sit down triumphantly, and put my hands on the keys. At last! I’m ready to write the great American novel. However—the phone rings. It’s my mother. She’s waiting on me. “Did you forget you need to take me to the dentist?” Ahhh. . .yeh, I did, but I don’t tell her. “I’m on my way!” I say instead. I get up from my computer and grab my car keys.
Tomorrow, I’d begin the great American novel, the minute my feet hit the floor, the instant my brain met the coffee.
J. L. (Jackie Lee) Miles is the author of Cold Rock River, the critically acclaimed Roseflower Creek, and the soon to be released Dwayne Series. Divorcing Dwayne debuts April 2008. Dear Dwayne & Dating Dwayne to follow.
Write to Jackie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the website at http://www.jlmiles.com/
**WINNER** of the copy of COLD ROCK RIVER is Lainey Bancroft.