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Adaptations

A private student of mine wrote to say that she’s been sick for the past few weeks and wasn’t writing. She’s nearly finished a memoir and was hoping that the summer hiatus from her teaching job might afford enough time to write every day. But now she’s behind, frustrated and melancholy, and wondered if I had any suggestions. The first seemed obvious: Rest and get well. The second: Do as much as you can even if it is in small spurts.

I’m not sure if men and/or women have an easier time working in small spurts or not. I certainly learned to use my time well when I became a mother. I had no choice. Raymond Carver did the same when he became a parent, one reason his short stories are very short stories. He wrote the early stories in one breath as he was taking care of his children. And when a writer friend of mine developed repetitive strain injury, she wrote poetry—by hand—and segments of essays. Some of the essays stayed short, some she worked on incrementally and slowly. Not only did this force her to find new rhythms of working, it also enabled her to explore a new genre; she’d never written poetry before.

I’m commuting a lot this summer in a long-winded triangle: the city to upstate to Ct. to see my venerable mother, to the city, back upstate, and so on. Though I appreciate my laptop, my cell phone, and my car, the nomadic life is both tiring and unsettling. I do the best I can with the time I have and I’ve changed my goals: I’m working on a revision of a failed novel instead of generating an idea for a second murder mystery. That’s the adaptation I’ve settled on to the present demands and challenges of my life. Tomorrow and next week may be different and I’ll have to adapt again. But the writing continues unabated.

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