Writing Tuesday: Snowjam 2014

The weather. Normally a nice bland conversation starter, the weather has become a major factor where I live. In the past six weeks, the weather has produced record lows and two snow events. Not a problem for most people in America, but in the South, it’s become a huge problem. Schools have been closed, traffic has been snarled, and grocery stores have had their shelves emptied of all bread products. In Georgia, the first snow event caused a massive traffic situation that paralyzed the city of Atlanta. Some have called it “SnowJam,” others “Snowapalooza,” other the “Snowpocalypse.” During the traffic nightmare, one of the radio stations referred to one Georgia state road as the “seventh circle of hell” while one of the Georgia interstates was the eighth circle. I know this because I was in my car listening to the announcer stuck in the middle of the seventh circle with two of my children with me. For eleven hours and forty-five minutes, I trudged home from a place less than ten miles from my house. During this time, I primarily had to focus on the road and other cars around me, but occasionally, I had a minute to reflect on how this traffic jam paralleled to a writer’s life because while a writer is the person to sit down and put the words to a screen or paper, there are obstacles and people who can either hinder or aid with the writing life.

When I left their preschool with my two youngest in the backseat, we ventured towards another child’s school. Obstacle number one came when another person thought she was being nice by letting me know that the upcoming bridge was closed. While I later found out this was not the case, this was the first hindrance in some writer’s lives. A writer may turn back at the first hint of anything bad. Instead of facing rejection, he or she lets his or her work linger in the internal memory of her computer (remember George McFly in Back to the Future when Marty asks him about his writing and he says he doesn’t show it to anyone because he doesn’t know if he can risk that kind of rejection). Instead of fighting through the writer’s block, a writer simply decides not to finish the story. I’ve had times when both of these instances have happened to me. As a writer, I need to have others read my work: to tell me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong, to help me learn about the craft of writing, and to help me notice craft issues I wouldn’t notice myself. As a writer, I’ve had those days when my characters are at a certain place and I know they need to get to point C from point A but it sure is difficult to figure out point B in the meantime.

So back to the snowjam. I turned around from a point slightly before the bridge and headed to plan B. Before I set out on plan B, I stopped at a local grocery store. My two youngest (Cupcake and Chunk) and I used the facilities; bought milk, bread and cinnamon sugar for French toast; and most importantly, topped off the fuel tank at the grocery’s gas station. This little stop reveals two more points in the writer’s life: distractions and foresight. The grocery store was a slight distraction, albeit a necessary one. There are distractions everywhere a writer turns. The Internet with all the fascinating blogs, websites, news sites, social media is a fun distraction. There are times I go places where I know I can’t get internet access in order to write. I am so thankful I topped off my gas tank, however. The foresight of planning ahead can help a writer; schedules can help a writer plan out what he or she hopes to accomplish in the day, week or month ahead. The same with a business plan.

After we left the gas station, I turned on the radio to find out about road conditions. A radio station (which since then has taken great pains to let everyone know how accurate they were in predicting this first snow event) broadcast the fact that the bridge was closed (it was not). Because of this I headed for the road later described as “the seventh circle of hell.” I exited the gas station and two hours later made it to the road that I was convinced was a good way to get home because it was three lanes and everyone knows that three lanes can handle more traffic than one. This brings me to the next analogy to a writer’s life: twists and turns in your plot. For the most part, I am a planner. I use a synopsis to create the main storyline and outline different events and scenes for each chapter. When I stick to this, I am a much better storyline. It’s when I think-oh, this would be a good way to introduce more conflict- and keep adding new plot details that I find myself in big trouble. Right now, I’m editing my completed first draft and have to delete a page and a half that I added that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book but seemed like a good idea at the time.

For two and a half hours, we drove about a mile. Cupcake reminded me that a visit to a place with some restrooms might be in order. We pulled into a grocery store parking lot. I unstrapped both children from their carseats and trudge through the ice and snow to see the sign on the door announcing they were closed even though there were people coming in and out of the store. Worried that everywhere else on this road would also be closing as well as about the bladders of Cupcake and Chunk, I entered the doors and begged the manager if I could please use the bathroom. A woman exiting with her groceries prevailed on him as well and I ran to the bathroom with my kids before the manager could change his mind. To my surprise, the woman also prevailed on the manager to let her buy us some Lunchables. I am still grateful to this woman for the kindness in buying a total stranger and her kids food. As a writer, I am also grateful whenever anyone offers to critique my work and gives me honest feedback. Critique partners and readers do a tremendous service to writers in that they point out issues and problems that we may not see. Word repetition, POV changes, and out-of-place scenes are such issues.

We entered the car, not knowing that we would be in the car for another five hours and forty-five minutes. In the same manner, depending on the method of publication a writer pursues, a writer doesn’t know whether he or she will receive that special call right away, months away or years away.

As we neared home, there were cars stranded on the side of the road. There are writers who never finish a book.

Along the way I received a call from a friend who returned my call from when I realized I was not going to be able to pick up one of my children from school. This friend let me talk to her through one of the stuck in traffic moments when I didn’t move for close to an hour. Thanks to her and all the friends who listen to me talk about my characters, my plot and my book.

Then we arrived at the icy patch that continued all the way up the hill. I was ready to cry. Here we were so close to home yet so far away. My car got stuck in the left lane in an icy patch. Thank you so much to the men who were pushing everyone up the hill and who pushed my car out of that patch. Also thank you to all the writers who encourage me at conferences and writers’ meetings. That little push sometimes helps in those rough patches and help us the next time we sit at the keyboard.

Arriving in the church parking lot next to our subdivision, I saw my husband waving on the side of the road. I parked in a spot and turned off the car. We walked with our kids up the icy hill and made it inside our home. A rush of emotions flooded me as my snowjam experience had come to an end. Similarly writers know different emotions when they write the end at the end of a manuscript. They’ve written, edited and sent off their book, hoping to find an audience.

Even though a writer ultimately sits on a chair and writes by him or herself, he or she still experiences help and guidance along the way to the finished product. As a writer and Snowjam 2014 driver, I thank all the people who are helping me along the way.

What about you? Who are the people who help you pursue whatever dreams you have?

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